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So, Herr Drumpf is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and the concern about fascism coming to America has itself taken on yet another layer of poignancy. Concerns are being raised by individuals as diverse as neo-con and Iraq war cheerleader Robert Kagan, and leading expert on the structural characteristics of fascist movements, Robert O. Paxton. It is Paxton’s work on the subject that most interests me here. While this post can be viewed as a follow up to my earlier one (hence the recycled picture), this post can also be viewed as the first of a two part series on aspects of those structural characteristic Paxton so carefully analyzed, and how they are visibly playing themselves out this election cycle. My argument here will be a fairly informal one – I’ll not be providing detailed endnotes or extensive quotations (although, such quotes as do appear will have their location in the Kindle text provided). This is because the details I’ll be offering from Paxton’s work are entirely uncontroversial readings of his arguments. Besides which, Paxton’s book is readily available, eminently readable, and an essential book for any citizen caught up in contemporary events.Fascists

My concern here is to remind folks not only of some of the essential characteristics that go into making a fascist movement – and fascism is always a movement, a populist one at that, and not a party or a collection of policies – and consider some of the ways the Trump phenomenon differs from other post WWII forms of conservative extremism, ways that actually push it closer to fascism. The movements I’ll be describing will be European ones, and most of what I’ll have to say about these European forms of conservative extremism will be based on chapter 7 of The Anatomy of Fascism. First, however, it will be useful to remind ourselves about the nature of fascism itself.

We begin, in essence, at the end, the end of Paxton’s book, where he summarized the nature of fascism thusly:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. [4267]

The “cult of victimhood” is certainly a visible part of Trump’s entire campaign; indeed, it is displayed prominently in his campaign’s very slogan: “Make America Great Again.” The only way persons could find this appealing is if they were convinced that America was once great, but no longer enjoyed such a status. The stand-out group in Trump’s self-pitying, self-declared “victims” are a certain type of white male. Trump’s singular and unqualified appeal to white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis is itself just the extreme tip of a much broader base amongst nominally middle class whites.

The media likes to pretend that Trump’s followers are primarily blue-collar, working class folk. But the data directly contradict this meme. And it is only a factually vacuous meme. When one looks at the actual numbers behind Trump’s supporters, the idea that they just ordinary folk evaporates. But the fact that their median income is in the $70k range does not separate these relatively middle-class enthusiasts from the structures of fascist movements. But, as Paxton himself has noted, many people in the traditional bourgeoisie implicitly approved of fascist bullying and violence, even as they might publicly disdain such actions. (Per this last, recall how polls show differing levels of support for Trump depending on whether the person is being asked over the phone, or anonymously online.) Moreover, it is scarcely credible to suppose that Trump will ever be a friend of Labor. His own businesses and construction enterprises lean heavily on cheap, international and non-unionized workers. In this respect, it is also worth recalling that fascist regimes destroyed independent labor unions, while workers’ share of national product shrank under the regimes of both Mussolini and Hitler.

Another myth that can be quickly disposed of is the oft repeated claim by right-wing extremists that fascism is actually a liberal phenomenon. Commentator and ideologue Jonah Goldberg actually went so far as to write one of the more fatuous pieces of logic- and history-free nonsense in the desperate attempt to advance such a claim a little over a decade ago. (I refuse to link to the book.) But, the irrefutable reality is that fascism always aligns itself with the wealthy and conservative elites in direct and uncompromising war with any form of left-leaning politics. Fascism, by itself, has never achieved the power it needed to wield the power it wanted. Fascists rise to power through their alliances with, and deliberate cooperation of, the most conservative elements in a particular society. And today we witness the uneasy acceptance of the Republican political establishment of Donald Trump as their presidential nominee.

Donald Trump’s emergence as a candidate is not an exact analog for those of more immediately identifiable fascist leaders, but we should not distract ourselves from strong analogies by an insistence upon exact identities. As Paxton says,

We are not required to believe that fascist movements can only come to power in an exact replay of the scenario of Mussolini and Hitler. All that is required to fit our model is polarization, deadlock, mass mobilization against internal and external enemies, and complicity by existing elites. [2266]

One point of strong analogy that deserves to be mentioned is Trump’s evident willingness to advocate the pursuit of goals “ without ethical or legal restraints”. Here I’m thinking specifically of Trump’s disdain for constitutional limitations, international agreements, and his open praise of his own followers’ bullying and violence. This differentiates the Trump movement from more recent forms of European right-wing extremism. While these groups have often allied themselves with those have spoken sympathetically of the “strength” and “purity” of fascist regimes, they went as far in their disdain of legal structures and strictures as Trump has done. In Trump’s case, this includes his fairly well documented cozy relationships with members of organized crime.

Trump’s casually vicious bigotry, sexism, anti-immigrant positions are also well documented, as well as standing out as another primary analogy with previous forms of fascism.

An authentically popular American fascism would be pious, antiblack, and, since September 11, 2001, anti-Islamic as well [3403]

We can add to that list anyone that’s Hispanic, Asian, Feminist (in this context meaning female but not adequately subservient and objectified), insufficiently hetero-normative, or otherwise challenges the “purity” of the “True (Trump) Americans” that is to be pursued with “redemptive violence.”

Can fascism really happen in America? Many people argue that it can, and some very stupid people argue that it already has. But how many people in this country are genuinely prepared to abandon legal, electoral, and democratic process – all primary aims of fascism – in the name of “strength,” “purity,” and “greatness”? (The cult of victimhood not only looks back upon lost glory, but forward to new and redeemed glory and “greatness.”) This one is a little hard to guess at, and being hard to guess, it would take a “special kind of stupid” to bet the farm that everything will just “work out.” (More on this in my companion post, whenever that comes out – it might not immediately follow this one.) Certainly there are more than a few self-righteous Dunning-Kruger exemplars who will be perfectly happy to go along with any fascist program as long as they are permitted to posture with their infantile pop-guns.

There is more than a little evidence to suggest that the Germans in the early 1930’s “just knew” that they could control the Nazis. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen … ? And anyway, if things just got a little worse, then everyone would see “The Truth” and things would then get better. Because, always, the way to make things better, is to make them worse, right?

Stay tuned for part 2.