Friday, December 11, 2015

Fascism in America

Noah Millman understands what people mean when they say Trump is a fascist, but he mistrusts their motives for saying it:
Trump appeals to the core demographic that animates fascist movements: the less-educated cohorts of the majority demographic group. And his appeal has a fundamental irrationalism to it. Trump plainly plays on and stokes xenophobia in his followers. He invokes a glorious past, blames our current difficulties on presumptively unpatriotic groups, and promises a return to glory if he’s elected. He encourages a cult of personality, fetishizes action, and displays little regard for democratic and liberal norms. So yeah, I get it.

On the other hand:

It was President Bush who instituted torture as a regular practice by America’s military and intelligence agencies, who routinized indefinite detention without trial, who launched an aggressive war explicitly to reshape another part of the world according to American dictates, and whose deputies argued that through sheer force of will the President could alter reality itself.

Other members of the Republican Party, including major Presidential contenders and candidates, have threatened war with nuclear-armed Russia, have called for the indiscriminate use of force against civilian populations, and have forcefully advocated a return to torture and an expansion of detention without trial.

The point being, the official leadership of the GOP has for some time been exceedingly militaristic and aggressive in its approach to foreign policy, and had little use for democratic or liberal norms when it comes to fighting terrorism. And militarism, reflexive aggression, and a contempt for liberal and democratic norms in the face of emergency are pretty central to the fascist ethos.

Nor is it just the GOP. It was President Obama who argued that the President has the right to order the execution of American citizens on his own recognizances, who routinized the use of deadly force on a global basis against “targets” determined largely on the basis of metadata, and who twice (against Libya and against ISIS) initiated substantial hostilities without even a hint of Congressional authorization.
Millman concludes by quoting Ross Douthat:
Freaking out over Trump-the-fascist is a good way for the political class to ignore the legitimate reasons he’s gotten this far — the deep disaffection with the Republican Party’s economic policies among working-class conservatives, the reasonable skepticism about the bipartisan consensus favoring ever more mass low-skilled immigration, the accurate sense that the American elite has misgoverned the country at home and abroad.
I would add the way Republicans have stoked the fears of voters -- fears of non-white people in America, of strange foreigners with outlandish beliefs, of governmental bankruptcy, of social collapse, etc. --without having any meaningful plans to make things better.


Unknown said...

At the risk of contributing to a basically arid lexical debate, I will say that Millman seems to be making the common mistake of confusing "fascist" with "nasty." Plenty of governments have launched aggressive wars, tortured, and practiced detention without trial, without being fascist--unless you just want fascist to mean "nasty." Fascism is a phenomenon fairly specific to the last century or so, and, even if it's hard to define, a politician has to have some particular characteristics in order to qualify. No American president, let alone Obama or even Bush, has actually promised to reorder American society as a whole along fascist lines, with mass conscription, a genuine militarization of education, a subordination of economic forces to national purposes determined by the state, or the formal disestablishment of all political parties but their own. I'm not saying this to defend their policies. But a policy can be bad without being fascist.

G. Verloren said...

I second the notion. I mean, we've had the CIA busy doing atrocious things for over half a century, and yet no one would say that makes our government Fascist somehow.

Heck, one of the major idealogical pillars of Fascism is a rejection of Communism, but does that mean the Cold War was actually about promoting Fascism in opposition to the Soviets? Hardly.

John said...

I think his point was that worrying about whether Trump is a fascist is a distraction; the real issue is making the government better. He would agree that Bush was not a fascist, but in his view Bush was much worse than Trump.

G. Verloren said...

I highly doubt anyone who is concerned by Trump isn't also concerned by our other governmental problems and abuses. It's just a matter of priorities.

To use a metaphor, you don't stop to bail out your boat when you're navigating rocky shoals. Similarly, there's not much sense in worrying about our extant governmental issues when there's a real possibility that Trump could get elected and make the point largely moot.

Once Trump has been shown to be out of the running, then people will turn their attention back to drone warfare, "extralegal" killings, our insane belligerent foreign policy, et cetera. But for the moment there's a madman running for president and he's leading the polls for the Republican party.

Shadow said...

I don't think Trump is a madman or a crackpot; I just know i don't like him and didn't long before it became fashionable not to. Too vicious. I'm not sure he believes anything he says. He just ratchets it up a notch every two weeks to stay on the front page. This I hope will prove his undoing. In some ways he symbolizes the worst features of our pop culture, and the distinction between pop culture and politics (and politicians) is now far less than it once was.

I would say his ideas are crackpot, but he has too big a following to dismiss them that way, I think. If enough people believe something, and that something becomes a political movement, is it ever a good idea to dismiss them as crackpot or mad? Trump could fall on his face tomorrow and disappear, but his followers would not. They would remain looking for a new leader. I reckon he has more than 2 1/2 million followers who are registered voters, not a huge number by any stretch when one considers there are 146 million registered voters in the U.S. give or take a couple of million. But 2 million is still a lot, certainly enough to seed a movement if circumstances go their way.

G. Verloren said...

By "madman", I meant more "sociopath" than "crackpot".

It would technically be more excuseable if he actually believes what he's saying. The notion that he's just intentionally cynically catering to the absolute worst elements of the population is far more abhorant than his just being genuinely crazy.

There are two old sayings which I feel both apply here.

On the one hand, "Rogues are preferable to imbeciles, because they sometimes take a rest" - if Trump succeeds, it'd probably be less awful in general for him to be secretly manipulating things, because he'd still have the capacity to not act like a complete nutter if the need arose.

But on the other hand there's Hanlon's Razor, "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity". I simply have a hard time believing that Trump is in any way personally intelligent or capable enough to be secretly faking this whole thing.

I can trust my judgement that he's a complete idiot and has always been one. Or I can try to convince myself either that he's been keeping up a complicated act for about thirty years now, or that someone else has been acting as his handler and orchestrating it all for him. It seems to me clear which option is most likely by far.

Shadow said...

He's a narcissist. I'm no shrink, but he sure looks like text book case to me.

G. Verloren said...

To be fair, narcissism and sociopathy aren't mutually exclusive.