Posts Tagged ‘Carl Schmidt’

Understanding Trump’s American Fascism

March 21, 2016

Okay, I’ve tried for about a week not writing about Donald Trump. I know some of you feel that I’ve given too much attention to this moron, and that this country has enough on its plate with the thugs who are in power over here. Including the one that left office late Thursday evening, the fall-out of which is still continuing. The problem is, Trump’s too big, too slow moving and the parallels with real Fascism too glaringly overt. You can compile a list of all the elements in Fascism, which are present in Trump’s campaign or the general background of right-wing anxiety and hysteria, which has contributed to it.

And if Trump gains power, he will be a problem over here. Not just personally, in that his decisions on the economy and policies of the world’s only surviving superpower will have direct consequences for Britain and the rest of the world, but also in the malign political influence his election over there will have on domestic politics. Events in America and elsewhere in the world have a legitimising effect on similar developments over here. Blair and the New Labour clique took their queue from Bill Clinton and his New Democrats. These aren’t to be compared to the Canadian New Democrat party, which is the Canadian equivalent of the Labour party. Clinton’s ‘New Democrats’ were a revision of the Democrat party, which took over much of the ideology of Reagan’s Republicans, especially financial deregulation, curbs on welfare spending and workfare. Clinton was almost certainly better than the alternative, but nevertheless he continued Reagan’s squalid political legacy. And over here, Blair copied him, introducing workfare, and pursuing Thatcher’s policies of deregulating the economy, including the financial sector, and cutting down on welfare spending. And then you can go further back, to the 1920s and ’30s, when Fascist parties sprang up all over Europe in imitation of Mussolini’s squadristi and later the Nazis in Germany. The British Union of Fascists was just one of them. They also included such groups and political cults in this country as the British Fascisti – actually extreme Right-wing Tories and Arnold Leese’s The Britons. If, heaven help us, Trump ever gets into power, his occupation of the White House will mean that European politicians will start aping him. Which means more racism, more misogyny, further restrictions on personal freedom, and domestic politics marked and supported by brutality and violence. So, here’s a bit on Trump’s ideological precursors and the similarity of his campaign to Fascist and proto-Fascist movements.

As I said, you can make a list out of the similarities between Trump’s campaign and personal style of politics, and those of real Fascists. Let’s begin with

Violence

Trump’s campaigns have been marked by his supporters striking and beating protestors. Trump himself has stood on his platform fondly looking back on the old days when those who dared to disrupt political campaigns like his would be taken out on stretchers. He’s even offered to pay his supporters’ legal fees if they assault someone. And at the weekend his scheduled rally in Chicago descended into a near riot when Trump cancelled and refused to show up.

One liberal female newsreader commenting on the violence at Trump’s rallies said that when she was growing up in California in the 1980s, you never saw it except on the extreme right-wing fringe, at was barely politics – Skinhead concerts. Marinetti in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, an avant-garde artistic movement that became briefly aligned with Fascism, declared

We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure and by riot; we will sing of the multi-coloured polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals.

Georges Sorel, a revolutionary Syndicalist, who later became involved with extreme right-wing French royalist and anti-Semitic movements, proclaimed in his Reflexions sur la Violence that it was only in violent revolution that men were truly free, and were able to make a new man inside themselves. He was published by a French artistic group, the Compagnons de l’Action d’Art, who declared ‘Long live violence against all that makes life ugly’.

Marinetti went on to further declare ‘We today separate the idea of the Fatherland from that of reactionary, clerical Monarchy. We unite the idea of Fatherland with that of daring Progress and of anti-police revolutionary democracy’.

It could almost describe exactly Trump’s ideological background. Much of extreme right-wing politics in America is predicated on a profound opposition to monarchy dating from the Revolution. You can see it in such extremist political movements as Lyndon LaRouche’s ‘Democrats’ back in the late 1980s and 1990s, who believed that the Queen and the Vatican were locked in a deadly covert battle for world domination, with Her Maj running the world’s drug trade from the back of Buck House. Alex Jones’ Infowars internet set has been heavily backing Trump as ‘the only anti-globalist candidate’. He’s also paranoid about the British monarchy. There’s a hilarious segment on his show where he talks about Britain’s secret police picking up anybody who failed to show due respect to Brenda during some royal occasion a few years ago. He roundly declared that ‘they (the British) have no freedom’.

Well, I must have been out when that happened. I don’t doubt that the rozzers did pick up a few troublemakers back then. But that last time I looked, you were still free in this country to say what you liked about the Royal Family. A few years ago the Queen turned up in my home town of Bristol to present the Maundy Money at a ceremony in the city’s cathedral. Apart from those due to receive it, and the crowd of royalists and general rubberneckers, there was a demonstration from MAM – the Movement Against the Monarchy. A lot of the pensioners and other members of the public were annoyed at their demonstration, but I don’t recall there being mass arrests.

Trump also retweeted one of Mussolini’s sayings ‘It is better to live one day as a lion that one hundred years as a sheep.’ Trump said he just liked it because it’s a good quote. And so it is. What makes it suspicious is that it comes from Musso, who advocated a similar cult of violence. When he was still a revolutionary Socialist, the future Duce wrote an essay on Nietzsche, published in the magazine La Voce. He announced

We must envisage a new race of “free spirits”, strengthened in war, in solitude, in great danger … spirits endowed with a kind of sublime perversity, Spirits which liberate us from the love of our neighbour.

Misogyny

Trump has an extremely reactionary attitude towards women. When a female journalist at Fox News dared to ask him a difficult question, he sneering responded that she did so ‘because she was bleeding’. This too, is par for the course for the Fascist Weltanschauung. ‘We advocate scorn for women’, declared the Futurists, who celebrated ‘youth, speed, virility.’ This later became ‘Youth, Speed, Violence’, as women joined the movement. This was coupled to the cult of the charismatic leader. Adolf Hitler said, ‘the masses are like women. They want a strong man to lead them.’ Il Duce in Italy was also opposed to women skiing, riding or cycling, as this was supposed to make them infertile and prevent them from their ‘natural and fundamental mission in life’, of having babies.

On this matter, the general attitude of the Republican party and the American Right is very similar to that of Mussolini’s Italy. Musso was also worried about the declining Italian birth rate. In 1927 he made a speech stating that he aimed to increase the Italian population from 40 million to 60 million over the next 25 years. Contraception and abortion were both banned. In Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany women’s role was defined as very traditional and domestic. Instead of going out to work, they were to stay at home and raise families.

The Republican party and the Right today is similarly worried about the fall in the birth rate of the White race, and there are websites and discussions on Right-wing internet sites devoted to the demographic decline of the West. The American religious Right is also strongly opposed to abortion and there is similar opposition to women taking up positions of economic or political leadership. I can remember way back in the 1990s one Republican pastor hysterically declaring that Hillary Clinton was ‘the type of woman who leaves her husband, turns to lesbianism, practices witchcraft and sacrifices her children.’ There, and I thought that she was just a bog-standard, rather boring corporate type. Who could have guessed she led such an exciting, subversive life?

But this leads on to and is part of another feature of the Fascist Weltanschauung, that is also part and parcel of the GOP worldview:

The Decline of the West

Italian Fascism and Nazism also grew out of the 19th century feeling that Europe was threatened by decadence, and racial and cultural degeneration. It was threatened by democracy, organised labour, feminism, all of which were making Europe enfeebled. Hans Nordung described this supposed decline in his book, Degeneration, as did Oswald Spengler in his The Decline of the West. It’s an attitude that similarly pervades the Right today, alarmed by the challenge posed by militant Islam, the rise of China as a world power, and mass immigration from the Developing World. Various Republican and Right-wing leaders today in America scream about the threat of Socialism, by which they mean any kind of collectivism or state intervention, as well as feminism, which is also held to weaken America. Mussolini declared at one time that he supported women’s demands for the vote in England, as one women became politically enfranchised they would spread pacifism, leading to Britain’s decline as an imperial world power.

Exceptionalism

Right-wing American politics still has the belief that America is different from and superior to all other nations. It’s more moral, and hence America demands the absolute right not to be bound by the international treaties and conventions it imposes on others. Kyle Kulinski over at Secular Talk commented on the outrage that would occur if, say, one of the Muslim countries launched drone attacks on known White supremacists in America. Drone attacks on Muslim terrorists in countries like Yemen, with whom America is not actually at war, is nevertheless perfectly acceptable. And way back under Clinton, the Americans were keen to set up the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, and that the other nations around the world should sign the treaties binding them to it and outlawing such crimes. Except for America. It was felt that America did not need to be so bound, and indeed that this would only be an impediment to the ability of the Land of the Free to export that freedom around the globe.

The Italian nationalist poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose own later excursion to Fiume set up all the political institutions that were taken over into Musso’s Fascist Italy, made the same claim for Italy and her imperialist adventures in Africa. In his ‘Augural Song for the Chosen Nation’ he proclaimed

So you will yet behold the Latin Sea
covered
with massacres in your war … Italy, Italy
sacred to the new dawn
with the plough and the prow.

Racism

Fascism is, for most people, synonymous with racism. In this, Italian Fascism was originally rather different from Nazism. The Italian Fascists, while extremely nationalistic, weren’t originally racists. About 80 per cent of Italy’s Jews managed to survive the War, because many Jews had been extremely patriotic and supported the new Italian state which had been brought into being by Mazzini and the other Italian revolutionaries in the 19th century. A number of them had joined the Fascist movement. One of the leading Italian generals, Ovato, was Jewish, and he was buried with military honours and a headstone ‘For Family, Faith and Fatherland’ at the same time his compatriots elsewhere in Italy were being rounded up and butchered. The Nazis were bitterly anti-Semitic, as is notorious, and took over the scientific racism that originated in the 19th century with Count Gobineau in France, amongst others. Apart from Jews, the Nazis also hated Gypsies and Slavs, as well as non-Whites. Once in power, they organised a campaign to sterilise the mixed-race children of German women and Black American soldiers, who had been part of the army of occupation after the First World War. Mussolini also passed a series of anti-Semitic legislation in imitation of Hitler’s.

Although not initially racist, they also sterilised and butchered the indigenous African peoples in the parts of Africa they conquered. Their nationalism also led them to launch campaigns to force Italian language and culture on the other ethnicities that found themselves within Italy’s borders, like ethnic Germans and Slavs.

Trump’s popular because he has announced that he will build a wall to prevent further immigration from Mexico. At rallies his supporters have also racially abused Black and Muslim protestors. The Young Turks interviewed a group of three young guys protesting against Trump at a rally in West Chester, Ohio. One of them was a substitute teacher. He was worried by White pupils on schools in which he taught coming in, and saying to their Black and Asian classmates that ‘once Trump gets in, you’ll be deported.’ There have also been instances of racist abuse at College sports events. In one instance, the supporters of a basketball team from an all-White area chanted ‘Trump, Trump, Trump!’ when playing a mixed-raced team from a much more ethnically diverse part of the same state. Among his supporters Trump has attracted various card-carrying Nazis and White supremacists. He’s even been endorsed by the Klan. There has also been a recent documentary in America by PBS television, which covered the way one southern family had been brought together by Trump. Many of them had not voted for decades, and the family had been divided between Republican and Democrat supporters. But they had all been brought together by Trump. This was fine, until you saw the tattoos on the wife’s arms. These included the type of Celtic cross used by the Neo-Nazi right, and the numbers 88, which in Nazi circles stand for Heil Hitler.

Trump has also announced that he wishes to place a ban on Muslims entering America. Those Muslims permitted to remain will have to carry badges and identity documents. These has naturally alarmed Jewish and civil rights groups, who have noted the obvious parallels with the treatment of Jews in the Third Reich in the years preceding the Holocaust. Mussolini too was an opponent of Islam. In the 1920s he prevented a mosque from opening in Rome.

Militarism

Trump’s actually ambiguous on this. Both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists had at their core radicalised, extremely nationalistic corps of ex-servicemen from the First World War. These former the Brownshirts of the SA in the Nazi party, and the Blackshirts, the squadristi and arditi, the latter elite Italian soldiers in Mussolini’s Fascists. The American Right has also thrown up in past decades various paramilitary movements. The survivalists stockpiling food and guns for the end of the world in the 1980s were succeeded by the Militia movement, who were similarly arming themselves for an invasion. Amongst the loonier theories was the idea that the Russians had left secret tank battalions in Mexico and Canada, ready to roll into the American heartland. A few days ago after one rally, one group appeared on the Net declaring themselves willing to serve as the ‘Trump militia’, working as bodyguards. They called themselves the Lion Militia, and debated online which uniform to wear. One was a lion costume, the other was that of the Brownshirts. I’m fairly certainly these were jokes, but nevertheless, there is something more seriously Fascistic underneath.

On foreign policy, Trump has been vague, issuing blatantly contradictory statements about his intentions in the war in the Middle East. At times he’s said that America should keep out of it, and leave it to Putin to sort out. At other times he’s announced that he intends to go in much harder than the previous presidents, killing not only the terrorists themselves, but also their families. He has also stated that he’s in favour using torture, ‘even if it doesn’t work’.

Mussolini similarly had a contradictory attitude to war. His regime was always strongly militaristic. He demanded that Italians should live in a permanent state of war. He wanted an army of five million men with a forest of bayonets, an air force so vast it would blot out the sun and a navy that other nations would fear as a threat to their security. And yet he also saw himself as a great peacemaker, and was genuinely affronted that he did not win the Nobel Peace Prize for the Locarno Settlement.

Historians of the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe noted that they generally arose in countries, where the military was accorded a very high respect, and which had been united through military action. This included Germany, which was united through Bismarck’s conquests of the individual German states, and Cavour and Garibaldi, who did the same in Italy. It also applies to America, which was created through violent revolution and expanded westwards through military conquest.

The Activist Style of Politics

Conservative critics of Fascism have suggested that Fascism owes its basis partly to the development of the activist style of politics, which arose with liberalism and democracy. Before the French Revolution, politics had been strictly confined to the governing elites. After the French Revolution, all citizens were required to be politically involved. This expansion of direct political activism also involved the definition of those who were outside the new nations. In the case of the French Revolution, this was the aristocracy. In the case of Fascism, it revised the activist style so that those outside the new national community were the regime’s political opponents and ethnic minorities.

America was one of the world’s first modern democracies. It emerged from a Revolution against British government and perceived tyranny. That liberal tradition of democratic political activism is also revised on the American extreme Right. Trump’s backed by Alex Jones’, the motto of whose Infowars internet programme is ‘1776 Worldwide’. Jones, Trump and the other right-wing demagogues believe that democracy is under threat, and can only be defended through strong and sustained action against powerful internal and external threats.

Conspiracies

The Nazi Right has always been characterised by bizarre conspiracy theories. In the case of the Nazis in Germany and their successors, these were anti-Semitic theories, some derived from the infamous Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Nazis believed that Germany and the West was under attack from a Jewish conspiracy linking financial capital to the Communists. Germany had not been defeated in the First World War, but had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the Jews. These stupid and vile theories have continued on the Nazi fringe. In the 1990s various members of the American Nazi fringe and Militia movement, like Timothy McVeigh, believed that their government was secretly ruled by ZOG – the Zionist Occupation Government, dedicated to exterminating the White race through racial mixing. There have also been all manner of bizarre conspiracies about the Bilderberg Group and Trilateral Commission. Jones, Trump’s supporter, is one of those who believes in these, though I think he’s Jewish. Whatever his religious background, he’s very definitely not anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, he is part of the same conspiracy fringe. These have reached bizarre extremes. Jones and his predecessors, for example, believe that the FEMA legislation passed in the 1990s is in preparation for an act of emergency, which will see Christians and other political opponents rounded up by the regime and placed in concentration camps. 20 years ago, back in the 1990s, the coloured dots on road signs in Philadelphia which marked when they were painted so that the highways authorities knew when to give them their next lick of paint were also the subject of a bizarre rumour. Those dots were supposed to show the location of the secret concentration camps which were going to be set up.

Contempt for Parliamentary Democracy

Both Nazism and Fascism were motivated by opposition to liberal, parliamentary documentary. The Nazis overthrew German democracy through a series of emergency decrees following the Reichstag fire. Mussolini led his Fascists on a March on Rome. Trump has similarly said that there will be riots if his opponents in the Republican party conspire to deprive him of the nomination to be the candidate for the presidency in a brokered convention. In the 1990s there was briefly a call for the Militias to march on Washington, though this was turned down as some of their members feared that it was an attempt to provoke them so that they could be banned by the government. More recently there has been a march in Washington held by the militant supporters of gun rights, though they did not attempt to overthrow the government.

Elitism

Both the Nazis and Italian Fascists believed that only elites had the right to rule, taken from writers like Ortega y Gasset and Vilfredo Pareto in the case of the Fascists. For the Nazis, this was based in Social Darwinism. Businessmen, provided they were Aryans, had the right to enjoy their prominent social positions and economic leadership because they had shown their superior talent and genetic worth through competition in the world of business. It’s an attitude that can still be found in the mainstream Right, both in America and Britain. Trump is the most outspoken in his embrace of this attitude. A businessman from an extremely wealthy family, he has made sneering reference to the poor, and how those from poor families should not have the right to rule because their family background shows that they don’t have the necessary biological inheritance to have made their way to the top earlier. And he has absolute contempt for the poor.

Charismatic Leadership

At the heart of Fascism was the cult of the strong, charismatic leader, whose unique qualities made him supremely fitted to govern. They alone possessed the ability to govern according to the popular will, even if the people themselves didn’t know it was. Furthermore, as men of exceptional ability operating in times of crisis, they were not bound by the judicial constraints placed on others. Carl Schmidt, a jurist, who worked briefly for the Nazis before falling out with them, established this principle in his piece, ‘The Fuehrer Protects Justice’, defending Hitler’s action in the mass killing of the SA by the SS in the Night of the Long Knives. Trump has not gone so far as to advocate the mass killing of his political opponents. But he has made it very clear that his supporters will use force if his claim to power is denied, and that he will revise the laws to permit torture. And at the core of his appeal is his claim to be able to provide America with strong leadership. And that’s always been synonymous with authoritarian rule.

Conclusion: Trump’s Political Inheritance of American Fascism

From this it’s clear that Trump is not an isolated phenomenon. He’s the culmination of a growing sense of threat and militaristic political movements that have been growing since the 1980s. Many of these qualities – the xenophobia, anti-Feminism and hatred of organised labour is actually fairly commonplace and characteristic of right-wing politics in America. But with Trump they’ve became particularly extreme. Some of this is a reaction to Barack Obama’s presidency. The presence of a Black man in the White House, whose background is Islamic though he himself isn’t, has created a profound alienation amongst the more hysterical elements in the Republican party. He’s been denounced as a secret Muslim, Nazi and Communist. In the case of the latter, it’s because of Obamacare, which was in origin a Republican idea. But it’s held to be too close to socialised medicine, and thus to Nazism and Communism. Because both are varieties of Socialism. Or at least, they are to right-wing pundits like Jonah Goldberg.

And the result has been the rise of Donald Trump.

Now I don’t think that once in power, Trump will overthrow democracy, force all Americans into uniform and start opening extermination camps. I do think, however, that American will become a much more intolerant place, and that Muslims and illegal immigrants will stand a far greater chance of losing any kind of political rights. And I can certainly see him interning Muslims, or at least some of them, like the Japanese, Germans and Italians were also interned as enemy aliens in the Second World War.

But his presidency will be a nightmare, and it will weaken democracy and genuinely liberal institutions in the Land of the Free. And that will be a disaster in a world where the forces of Right authoritarianism is growing.

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