Saturday, December 19, 2015

Corn-Pone Hitler?

I had intended to write about ¡Trumpismo!, and given the comments to my last piece, now seems like a good time. I don't normally like to cover domestic politics, since it's mostly irrelevant to the "big picture" issues I like to deal with here, but I do think the alternative candidates running now do reveal something about the future, chiefly that the center cannot hold and things are breaking down. As I've said so often, sometimes countries just go crazy.

First, the obvious. Trump is running a right-wing populist proto-fascist campaign. His campaign is predicated on national decline and humiliation, and animated by white racial grievance. The current Neoliberal duopoly has basically painted a happy face on several decades of decline in living standards for the vast majority of people in the previously rich industrialized countries, along with widespread unemployment, corruption, a crisis in housing affordability and a gutting of social services.

Given that, how could we not expect some kind of counter-reaction to emerge? Sooner or later it was going to happen. It makes sense that the person able to break through the corporate-owned media's peddling of Neoliberal economic orthodoxy and consent manufacturing would be someone with both the financial means and media savvy to do so.

The mainstream parties offer no solutions to the problems named above. Neither does Trump for that matter, but at least he acknowledges the situation, which is more that can be said for the hapless mainstream political parties. Both parties have had their crack at bat over the last few decades with precisely the same result: they have both have failed to do anything substantial for anyone outside of the donor class. As I've said before, American presidents are similar to their former Soviet counterparts, presiding over and caretaking a system that has no future and is rapidly falling apart. Nation-states have ceded real power to do anything apart from enforce the Neoliberal consensus that the only real duty of governments is to manage international capital markets. The mainstream "safe" candidates have presided over a precipitous and ominous rise of hopelessness, despair and decline, coupled with an epidemic of fraud, graft and corruption at the highest institutions of society. Is it any wonder people are losing faith in institutions? The mainstream parties are the parties of the small circle of winners at the top of society - the financiers, the university presidents, the executive directors, the CEO's, the superstars, and all the grifters who are making out like bandits at the expense of the rest of us.

The Predictability of Political Extremism (Naked Capitalism)

To me, what's most fascinating about Trump is the degree to which he reveals how disgusted downscale white voters are with the party they have been fanatically supporting since Reagan. It is a constant source of wonderment from astute political observers the world over, that the white American working class consistently votes for a party that seems to want to destroy them based on their rhetoric and legislative aims. This is chalked up to a number of reasons, usually tied to the manipulation of racism and religious fundamentalism.

That's partially true, of course, but what I think is the case is that people vote Republican because it's their "team." That is, what the Republicans do and how they govern is largely irrelevant to the people who vote for them. For example, people are Packers fans whether or not the team makes it to the Superbowl or loses a few games. It's their "team," and  being a fan  is a par of your identity. People are loyal to their team through thick and thin, win or lose (just ask Cubs fans). Voting Republican is largely an exercise to affirm one's affiliation to a particular segment of the American population - uneducated, white, rural, religious, gun-toting, church-going and fetus-fetishizing. The Republican party has become the party of affiliation for the downscale whites who have been left behind by Neoliberalism; what I've termed the "rump." As it cynically catered to this demographic to gain political power, it soon adopted all their worst elements - their bellicose and hypocritical religiosity, their lust for war and violence and disdain for the arts and culture, their xenophobia and their hatred. The Republicans are the "team" of rural whites and the executive class. Strange bedfellows to be sure, and that difference is partly behind the recent internal Republican civil war and the rise of Trump.

At the same time, the Democrats are increasingly portrayed as (exclusively) the party of gays, women, and minorities. Inaccurately, in my opinion. I think that the Democrats have let themselves be tarred and feathered with the most extreme elements of the "New Left" at the same time as they abandoned their commitment to putting up even a token resistance to Neoliberal consensus. This is why they are seen as "anti-white." In defense of the Democrats, at the time of the Reagan "revolution," there were plenty of Democrats who were pro-union and opposed to deregulation, outsourcing, and mass immigration. But they pretty consistently lost, so they figured that since that rhetoric got them no votes and alienated the donor class, they might just as well abandon those opinions and start getting the corporate cheddar that was necessary to buy the airtime needed to win modern elections. That was how they survived as a party.

So let's talk about immigration.

Now, I don't think that mass immigration is part of any so-called "conspiracy" against whites in this country. It's all about the money. Cheaper immigrants have always been used to keep wages low and suppress the wages of native-born workers. Employers would hire genetically-engineered chimpanzees or aliens from Zeta Reticuli if they thought they could break the back of the working class, without giving two fucks about the Americans they were screwing over. If blonde, apple-cheeked Nordics were happy to wash dishes for a few bucks an hour, they would be displacing the native population too. The Market cares for nothing besides cheap labor; it has no loyalty to nation, race or class. As I've said before (and as Morris Berman has repeatedly pointed out), there is no loyalty or solidarity in American society; it is purely a competition between alienated individuals over who can rook over the next guy and end up with the most. As Berman writes, unremitting competition is not a social glue, its a solvent, so it's no wonder America is coming apart at the seams.

A century ago, it was immigrants from Central Europe, particularly Austria-Hungary and the old Hapsburg empire who fit that bill. And many of them weren't considered white at the time. They were too swarthy and too Catholic for that. Most immigration prior to that was from Western Europe, particularly the British Isles, along with some French and Dutch. But the new wave was the Central slice of Europe west of France and east of Russia, from Scandinavia down through Sicily: Germans, Austrians, Swiss, Poles, Italians, Scandinavians, Bohemians, Serbians, Greeks, Croatians, Dalmatians, Romanians, Moravians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, and so on, including large numbers of Jews along with Irish fleeing the famine. Milwaukee, where I live, is pretty much comprised of those people today; the descendants of the Central European peasants whose ancestors crossed the Atlantic to survive, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon-dominated East Coast. My own ancestors were a part of that wave from what is today Eastern Germany (now Poland since the end of the Second World War). My great-grandparents never did bother learning English, getting by with their native Plattdeutsch.

And you heard the exact same rhetoric then as you do today - that the new immigrants were a threat to native workers, which was not entirely false, and that were more loyal to their homelands than America, which turned out not to be true. Now the great-grandchildren of those same immigrants are attending Trump rallies and demanding that the borders be closed.

Note that every spike in immigration is followed by an economic collapse. The supply of workers grows too large, driving down wages. The drop in wages depresses consumption and leads to an economic crisis in a capitalist system devoted to overproduction. The jobs then dry up and the crab mentality sets in. Competition for increasingly scarce jobs leads to xenophobic finger-pointing and scapegoating. In the past, however, the adults were in charge, and took steps to rectify the situation, keeping it from boiling over.

Not anymore.

The current wave is a bit different. They look a lot more like the original inhabitants of this part of the world we wiped out a long time ago. They know how to be poor, which gives them an inherent advantage in a contracting society. The big difference between this wave and the ones that preceded them is that the age of mass employment is over. This is very different from the relatively open country that the previous wave of immigrants found themselves in (many of whom ended up in a largely empty Middle America from Pennsylvania to Oregon). The other is that, since they did not have to cross an ocean and their ancestry is on this continent, there is a lot less pressure or need for them to assimilate. Plus it's a lot easier to get here and harder to close the border, since the ocean is not involved. Rather, America is changing to accommodate them. Sure, previous waves of immigration produced ethnic niche communities and material which catered to them, but they were eventually assimilated. In just a couple of decades, we have essentially become a bilingual society - you can conduct every aspect of life entirely in Spanish (not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion - Americans should learn to speak more languages).

This mass immigration is cheered on conservative websites that cater to the libertarian, business-oriented, anti-worker, think-tank-funded country-club arm of the Republican party--the ones funded by people like the Koch Brothers. I'm thinking of sites like Marginal Revolution and Bloomberg. "Left-leaning" economists like Noah Smith and "small-'L'-libertarian economists like Tyler Cowen are constantly beating the drum for more immigration, even as they freely acknowledge the death of the working class and the rise of automation. That mass immigration and unlimited free trade are good things is one of the few things that the mainstream corporate-funded Left and Right consistently  agree on.

The Moral Is the Practical (MR)

Does increasing inequality weaken the case for additional low-skilled immigration? (MR)

An Immigrant Won't Steal Your Raise (Bloomberg)

In fact, the Left and Right uniting against Neoliberal corporate rule is the elites' worst nightmare.
That's the reason behind the divide-and-conquer strategies that have been deployed so effectively by the wealthy and the media - to keep people from realizing their common enemy. It's an old tactic - Jay Gould quipped that he could hire half the poor to kill the other half. Today it would be rural gun-toting white Christian fundamentalists fighting Hispanic lesbian union activists or latte-sipping urban hipster professionals. Simple pie.

In fact, they've been so good at divide and conquer that they are tearing the nation apart for their own selfish ends. As long as people are preoccupied on racial/gender issues on so forth, they will never form a united opposition to the forces that are skinning us alive. The problem is that they've done it so effectively that the the country simply cannot function to accomplish any coherent goals at all. This power vacuum is good for powerful elites who can use their money to act as a de-facto government unto themselves. By cynically manipulating the fissures in American society, big business has successfully neutralized any opposition to its hostile takeover of the levers of power, but it has left a hollowed out country desperate for a savior in its wake. As Lincoln so aptly said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
“Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal,” [Bernie] Sanders said in a wide-ranging interview with the website. “That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States.” 
Sanders frequently targets the libertarian industrialists Charles and David Koch as unhealthy influences on American democracy — but he’s not the first to notice their support for an open borders policy. 
The conservative Breitbart and the white supremacist VDARE website each blasted the Koch brothers for sponsoring a “pro-amnesty Buzzfeed event” in 2013, and two writers for the Koch-sponsored Reason — former contributing editor David Weigel and current editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie — have always been supportive of immigration reform.
That’s at odds with what many Republicans believe, and Sanders told Vox that an open border would be disastrous to the American economy. 
“It would make everybody in America poorer — you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that,” Sanders said. “If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or (the United Kingdom) or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people.” He said conservative corporate interests pushed for open borders, not liberals.
Bernie Sanders explodes a right-wing myth: ‘Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal’ (Raw Story)

Note how it is couched in the rhetoric of "freedom." Footloose and desperate labor is a plutocrat's dream. As I like to say, if you see the words "Freedom" or "Liberty" in connection with "Economics," look very closely at where the money is coming from and who benefits for their proposals.

However, on the ground, Republican voters are not stupid. they are well-aware that if they hire workers to fix their pluming or install a new roof, those workers are all going to be speaking Spanish. They know that the kitchen staff of every restaurant they go to is filled with people straight out the beanfields of Mixoacan.  And they don't understand why those people can travel thousands of miles not speaking a word of English and have a job ready and waiting for them while their own unemployment benefits are running out and they are turned down for even the most trivial service job. They also wonder why their children are the ones populating urban schools and parks. And if you point this out, the corporate-owned media is eager to denigrate you with labels like "racist" and "nativist." Trump is largely a reaction to this.

Now, I don't think that immigrants are in any way "threatening" America's culture. Quite the opposite, actually. You cannot threaten American culture because there is no culture. America's only "culture" is making money. It is not so much a civilization as a business proposition. Its soul is hollow and empty inside, and there is nothing in it's back heart besides pandering to the lowest common denominator, Social Darwinism, and the eternal need for "more." You can't destroy what never existed.

What it will do it make it crowded enough that the uniquely American fantasies of rising living standards in perpetuity and social mobility will wither and die on the vine. Right now the generations who experienced those things are having an emotional tantrum and looking for a daddy/Santa Claus figure who will promise them all the goodies they think they so richly deserve, and Trump is all to happy to occupy that role in the service of his own ego. When yet another savior fails to deliver, there will be yet another meltdown, accompanied by all the same symptoms -  political extremism, class warfare, ethnic scapegoating and mass shootings of the poor by the poor. After a few centuries of madness, we may end up with a society more in line with a shrinking world and with a polity that can be trusted to make mature decisions not based knee-jerk reactions and fear.

Robert Reich has been touring the country promoting his latest book, and to his credit, he is one so-called leftists who tries very hard to understand the perspective of those who disagree with him. What he finds is that on the economic issues, there is surprisingly little difference between the so-called liberals and conservatives who are constantly played against each other:
It turned out that many of the conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers I met agreed with much of what I had to say, and I agreed with them. For example, most condemned what they called “crony capitalism,” by which they mean big corporations getting sweetheart deals from the government because of lobbying and campaign contributions.
I met with group of small farmers in Missouri who were livid about growth of “factory farms” owned and run by big corporations, that abused land and cattle, damaged the environment, and ultimately harmed consumers.They claimed giant food processors were using their monopoly power to squeeze the farmers dry, and the government was doing squat about it because of Big Agriculture’s money.
I met in Cincinnati with Republican small-business owners who are still hurting from the bursting of the housing bubble and the bailout of Wall Street. “Why didn’t underwater homeowners get any help?” one of them asked rhetorically. “Because Wall Street has all the power.” Others nodded in agreement. Whenever I suggested that big Wall Street banks be busted up – “any bank that’s too big to fail is too big, period” – I got loud applause.
In Kansas City I met with Tea Partiers who were angry that hedge-fund managers had wangled their own special “carried interest” tax deal. “No reason for it,” said one. “They’re not investing a dime of their own money. But they’ve paid off the politicians.”
In Raleigh, I heard from local bankers who thought Bill Clinton should never have repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. “Clinton was in the pockets of Wall Street just like George W. Bush was,” said one.
Most of the people I met in America’s heartland want big money out of politics, and think the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision was shameful. Most are also dead-set against the Trans Pacific Partnership. In fact, they’re opposed to trade agreements, including NAFTA, that they believe have made it easier for corporations to outsource American jobs abroad. A surprising number think the economic system is biased in favor of the rich. (That’s consistent with a recent Quinnipiac poll in which 46 percent of Republicans believe “the system favors the wealthy.”)
Reich goes on to describe the attraction of Trump to these voters. He couples the rhetoric and white racial affiliation of the Republican party with the pro-capitalist "everyone can get rich rhetoric," while mining the grievance of Americans who see the inexorable decay of their living standards and communities along with feeling like strangers in their own country. To some extent, he's doing what the Democrats did long ago - steal rhetoric from the other side that appeals to the marginalized middle. The Leftist views find no articulation of these views on the Democratic side save for Bernie Sanders. So why not vote for Sanders? Well, especially for the older white voters of Middle America who grew up during the Cold War, the constant demonization of "socialism" (and Bernie's Jewishness) are deal-breakers. But they can feel good about Trump.
I...began to understand why many of them are attracted to Donald Trump. I had assumed they were attracted by Trump’s blunderbuss and his scapegoating of immigrants. That’s part of it. But mostly, I think, they see Trump as someone who’ll stand up for them – a countervailing power against the perceived conspiracy of big corporations, Wall Street, and big government.
Trump isn’t saying what the moneyed interests in the GOP want to hear. He’d impose tariffs on American companies that send manufacturing overseas, for example.  He’d raise taxes on hedge-fund managers. (“The hedge-fund guys didn’t build this country,” Trump says. “They’re “getting away with murder.”) He’d protect Social Security and Medicare. I kept hearing “Trump is so rich he can’t be bought.”...
What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour (Robert Reich)

The Revolt of the Anxious Class  (Robert Reich)
A focus group of Trump supporters conducted by pollster Frank Luntz earlier this week revealed that, by and large, Trump's backers are pessimistic about the future of the country and passionately hate President Barack Obama and the mainstream media. They're wary of Muslims and steadfast in their support of their candidate, even to the point of being willing to follow him in an independent presidential bid if he leaves the Republican Party.

In September David Brady and Douglas Rivers of the Hoover Institution took a closer look at the demographics of Mr Trump's enduring coalition. They painted a picture of Trump supporters as largely older, less wealthy and less educated. They found that more than half of Trump-backers are female. About a third are over the age of 65. Only 2% are younger than 30. Half of his voters have a high-school diploma, but just 19% have a college degree. Just over a third earn less than $50,000, while 11% make six figures or more. Ideologically, Mr Trump's people are all over the board, with 20% identifying as moderate, 65% as conservative and 13% as very conservative. When the New Yorker entered the race, he pulled support from nearly every candidate in the field.

All of this raises what the Washington Post's Max Ehrenfreund calls a "fundamental, universal and uncomfortable" truth about Donald Trump and his now more than four-month run as the man to beat in the Republican primary. He spoke to a number of psychologists and came up with three key sources of Mr Trump's appeal. "We like people who talk big," he writes. "We like people who tell us that our problems are simple and easy to solve, even when they aren't. And we don't like people who don't look like us."
Who are Donald Trump's loyal supporters? (BBC)

In other words, the peasants that have been dutifully turning out and voting in radical right politicians over the last few decades are fully aware they're being screwed. They just don't see Democrats as a viable alternative, and who could blame them? And a true leftist movement which could articulate these fears and unite the diverse elements in American society who are usually at war with one another has been successively stymied to date. Trump says the things everybody knows are true, but cannot be articulated by parties dedicated to the pursuing policies demanded by the donor class. And unlike Sanders, Trump has enough celebrity to make past he media gatekeepers. He is fully aware that modern elections are a circus, and treats it as such. In fact, the media has been so discredited by parroting the Panglossian corporate rhetoric in the face of decline that they have undermined their credibility to such an extent that anything they say, even if it's true (such as there were not thousands of Muslims in New York celebrating 9-11, or that climate change is real), will be dismissed.

It's no surprise populism needs to be the "right-wing" variety in a country like the U.S. As I've said before, the Republican party is no longer a party, it is an authoritarian movement, and authoritarian movements need a leader. What's also interesting is the degree to which Putinism, a Russian nationalist authoritarian movement, is admired by right-wing Republicans in the US. I guess Russkies are OK as long as they aren't commies.

Donald Trump's Putin Admiration Is Completely Within the Political Mainstream (Gawker)

Note that the desire for a strong and decisive leader whom humiliated males emasculated by an economy that no longer needs them as workers or soldiers can live vicariously through is preciously the same sentiment that propelled the rise of politicians like Hitler and Mussolini, among others.

Which brings us to the Fascist part. In an intelligent article at Slate, the columnist uses Umberto Eco's definition of Fascism to point out that Trump's campaign first the bill rather nicely:
Part of the problem of talking about fascism, at least in American political culture, is that there’s nothing close to a common definition. ...Most often, it’s a political insult, usually directed from the left to the right, but often in the reverse too, always in service of narrow partisan points. This is too bad because fascist and fascism are terms that actually mean something apart from contemporary political combat and the particulars of early- to mid–20th-century Europe. And while that meaning is fuzzy, contested, and contingent, there are elements that scholars can agree on.
[Umberto] Eco emphasizes the extent to which fascism is ad hoc and opportunistic. It’s “philosophically out of joint,” he writes, with features that “cannot be organized into a system” since “many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanacticism.”
...A cult of “action for action’s sake,” where “thinking is a form of emasculation”; an intolerance of “analytical criticism,” where disagreement is condemned; a profound “fear of difference,” where leaders appeal against “intruders”; appeals to individual and social frustration and specifically a “frustrated middle class” suffering from “feelings of political humiliation and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”; a nationalist identity set against internal and external enemies (an “obsession with a plot”); a feeling of humiliation by the “ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies”; a “popular elitism” where “every citizen belongs to the best people of the world” and underscored by contempt for the weak; and a celebration of aggressive (and often violent) masculinity.
How does [Trump] build favor with Republican voters? He shows bravado and “strength,” disparaging weak opponents. He indulges racist rhetoric and encourages violence against protesters. He speaks directly to the petite bourgeoisie in American life: managers, public employees, small-business owners. People squeezed on all ends and desperate for economic and cultural security against capitalist instability and rapid demographic shifts, as represented by President Obama. Elect him, Trump says, and he’ll restore your security and American greatness. “You’re going to say to your children, and you’re going to say to anybody else, that we were part of a movement to take back our country. … And we will make America great again.”
Why Fascist Is the Term That Best Describes Donald Trump (Slate)

Trump has also called for the mass detention and incarceration of individuals based on nothing more than their ethnic/religious affiliation.

Here's what I think. I think Trump is a narcissist and opportunist, and that he realized that the Republican party had become a right-wing authoritarian movement comprised of the downwardly mobile angry white temporary majority, and that furthermore it had built effective distributed institutions to catapult the propaganda and rally troops to the cause, but it lacked a single charismatic leader (with the long-dead Reagan as a stand-in). The organization was there, built by a diffuse group of unconnected plutocrats to get lower taxes and higher profits; it just needed someone to come along who knew how to wield it effectively and had no shame in pandering to its worst elements.

How Donald Trump courted the right-wing fringe to conquer the GOP (Washington Post)

Most of the evidence shows that many of the opinions Trump is spouting contradict things he himself said years ago. I doubt he believes half the things he says, but he realized that by articulating the things conventional politicians can't or won't say to avoid offending their donors, he can fill a vacuum in American politics. And if this rabble includes the most ugly racist and crackpot elements in society, who cares so long as it gets you more power and popularity? The only thing that matters is getting the votes to win, because winning is all that counts in a morally nihilistic society.

This article is by far the best analysis yet of the Fascist angle of Trump's campaign and the American ultra-right in general: Donald Trump May Not Be a Fascist, But He is Leading Us Merrily Down That Path (Orcinus) It's quite long, and you need to read it all. One thing it points out is that most of the popular definitions of Fascism are simply wrong:
What it’s decidedly not, no matter what you might have read, is the simple-minded definition you’ll see in Internet memes attributed to Benito Mussolini: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” As Chip Berlet has explained ad nauseam, not only did Mussolini never say or write such a thing, neither did the fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, to whom it is also often attributed.

For one thing, as Berlet explains: “When Mussolini wrote about corporatism, he was not writing about modern commercial corporations. He was writing about a form of vertical syndicalist corporatism based on early guilds.” ...the term “corporatism” and “corporate” meant an entirely different thing in 1920s Italy than it means today...

Another thing that fascism decidedly is NOT is the grotesque distortion made by Jonah Goldberg, to wit, that fascism is a kind of socialism and therefore “properly understood as a phenomenon of the left.” This claim, in fact, is such a travesty of the idea of fascism that it functionally negates its meaning, rendering it, as George Orwell might describe it, a form of Newspeak. Indeed, it was Orwell himself who wrote that “the idea underlying Fascism is irreconcilably different from that which underlies Socialism. Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite.” Fascism, in reality, is a much more complex phenomenon than either of these definitions...
Yet in many ways, Trump's campaign is quite different from the Fascist campaigns that have existed historically: we consider the attributes of real fascism, we also can begin to discern the difference between that phenomenon and the Trump candidacy. Fascists have, in the past, always relied upon an independent, movement-driven paramilitary force capable of enacting various forms of thuggery on their opponents...Trump, however, has no such force at his disposal.
 What Trump does have is the avid support not only of various white-supremacist organizations, as well as that of very real paramilitary organizations in the form of the Oath Keepers and the “III Percent” movement, many of whose members are avid Trump backers, but neither of which have explicitly endorsed him. Moreover, Trump has never referenced any desire to form an alliance or to make use of such paramilitary forces.

What Trump has done is wink, nudge, and generally encouraged spontaneous violence as a response to his critics. This includes his winking and nudging at those “enthusiastic supporters” who committed anti-Latino hate crimes, his encouragement of the people at a campaign appearance who assaulted a Latino protester, and most recently, his endorsement of the people who “maybe should have roughed up” the “disgusting” Black Lives Matter protester who interrupted his speech.
That’s a clearly fascistic response. It also helps us understand why Trump is an extraordinarily dangerous right-wing populist demagogue, and not a genuine, in-the-flesh fascist. A serious fascist would have called upon not just the crowd to respond with violence, but also his paramilitary allies to respond with retaliatory strikes. Trump didn’t do that.

That, in a tiny nutshell, is an example of the problem with Trump’s fascism: He is not really an ideologue, acting out of a rigid adherence to a consistent worldview, as all fascists are. Trump’s only real ideology is the Worship of the Donald, and he will do and say anything that appeals to the lowest common denominator of the American body politic in order to attract their support – the nation’s id, the near-feral segment that breathes and lives on fear and paranoia and hatred.

There’s no question these supporters bring a singular, visceral energy to the limited universe of the GOP primary, though I don’t know anyone who expects that such a campaign can survive the oxygen and exposure of a general election. Indeed, it is in many signs an indication of the doom that is descending upon a Republican Party in freefall, flailing about in a death spiral, that it is finally resorting to a campaign as nakedly fascistic as Trump’s in its attempts to secure the presidency.
 Trump is not fascist primarily because he lacks any kind of coherent, or even semi-coherent, ideology. What he represents instead is the kind of id-driven feral politics common to the radical right, a sort of gut-level reactionarism that lacks the rigor and absolutism, the demand for ideological purity, that are characteristic of full-bore fascism.

That does not, however, mean he is any less dangerous to American democracy. Indeed, he may be more dangerous than an outright fascist, who would in reality be far less appealing and far less likely to succeed in the current milieu. What Trump is doing, by exploiting the strands of right-wing populism in the country, is making the large and growing body of proto-fascists in America larger and even more vicious – that is, he is creating the conditions that could easily lead to a genuine and potentially irrevocable outbreak of fascism.

Recall, if you will, the lessons of Milton Mayer in his book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945 – namely, the way these changes happen not overnight, but incrementally, like the legendary slow boiling of frogs... It is by small steps of incremental meanness and viciousness that we lose our humanity. The Nazis, in the end, embodied the ascension of utter demonic inhumanity, but they didn't get that way overnight. They got that way through, day after day, attacking and demonizing and urging the elimination of those they deemed their enemies.

And this is what has been happening to America – in particular, to the conservative movement and the Republican Party – for a very long time. Donald Trump represents the apotheosis of this, the culmination of a very long-growing trend that really began in the 1990s....All of which underscores the central fact: Donald Trump may not be a fascist, but his vicious brand of right-wing populism is not just empowering the latent fascist elements in America, he is leading a whole nation of followers merrily down a path that leads directly to fascism.

Consider, if you will, what did occur in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s remarks about “roughing up” Black Lives Matter protesters: Two nights later, a trio of white supremacists in Minneapolis invaded a Black Lives Matter protest there and shot five people, in an act that had been carefully planned and networked through the Internet.

What this powerfully implies is that Trump has achieved that kind of twilight-zone level of influence where he can simply demonize a target with rhetoric suggestive of violent retribution and his admirers will act out that very suggestion. It’s only a step removed from the fascist leader who calls out his paramilitary thugs to engage in violence.

America, thanks to Trump, has now reached that fork in the road where it must choose down which path its future lies – with democracy and its often fumbling ministrations, or with the appealing rule of plutocratic authoritarianism, ushered in on a tide of fascistic populism. For myself, I remain confident that Americans will choose the former and demolish the latter – that Trump’s candidacy will founder, and the tide of right-wing populism will reach its high-water mark under him and then recede with him.
Trump seems to be sort of a Rorschach test, people see in him what they wish to see, which is obvious from the divergent views in the comments. This is a quality that the most successful politicians need to have in order to succeed. Everyone sees in him their own fears and their own needs.

Personally, it's hard to take the hyperbolic rhetoric, mugging for the camera and shock of comical orange hair seriously as some sort of threat to civilization. But then again, I'm sure a lot of people made fun of Hitler's spittle-flecked speeches and silly-looking mustache and cowlick too. But the joke was on us. It wasn't so funny anymore in the prison yards of Dachau or the ruins of Berlin circa 1945. My guess is that Trump is nothing so sinister, and I hope that's the case. But I guess we'll have to wait and see.

P.S. More evidence of the dieoff: Drug overdose deaths in the US reach record levels (BBC)


  1. After delving recently into the goose stepping politically correct demagogue show that plunged Sweden into utter chaos, I am not feeling particularly friendly toward analyses that do the usual with the right/left divide. This divide, as far as I can tell, is more and more meaningless with each year, each campaign.

    I hear that in France, the left actually made an alliance with right-wingers to keep the so called "far right" out of power. And by the way, this supposed "far right" is actually against unfettered free market, against heavy-handed Brussels centralism, against the secret global treaties, against neo-colonial wars, and against the dictate of Wall Street. What sort of "far right" people are these people who run a program that used to be run by socialists and social democrats? The labels serve the liars. Time to come up with labels that actually label accurately what is going on.

    As for the American election, do we want a psychopathic war monger and pathological liar, or do we want a blustering narcissist? What a choice. I don't want either. (Some say Donald is running a stealth campaign to help elect Mrs. Clinton. Things are never what they seem.)

    1. It's difficult to describe the political situation without resorting to he usual shorthand, otherwise you have to explain every single reference in detail, which soon bogs down to unreadability. It would be nice if we updated the terms that have been around since the French Revolution. I'm very cognizant that Left and Right and liberal and conservative are practically meaningless now. It seems like Neoliberal/non-Neoliberal and authoritarian/non-authoritarian are more useful barometers today's climate.

      The Trump as Trojan Horse theory was covered by the BBC: Maybe it's true, I don't know. It would make sense - his campaign seems especially designed to flush out the most septic elements in the Republican party and bring them out in the open to show to the wider world just how toxic that party has become. You couldn't design a better campaign to discredit the Republican party in the eyes of the world.

    2. But what difference do the eyes of the world make, in insular America? Discrediting the Republicans in the eyes of the general electorate in November, that might matter. I notice once again this piece ignores the Sanders campaign with a single sentence, as though someone who challenges Wall St isn't worthy of mention. Likely the very fact that that he challenges Wall Street--and PHRMA, the MIC to a degree, etc--means he hasn't got a chance, because they own the media. And the voting machine companies, and the debate structures. But why do YOU pretend he barely exists and doesn't count? Your dismissal of Jill Stein and other third-party candidates after another sentence or tow I can see--under our system it's essentially impossible for them to break through (but I've seen claims that Sanders is supported so as to marginalize the Green Party out of existence and ultimately usher his voters to Clinton).

    3. Escapefromwisconsin is not just being blithely dismissive of Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and the phenomenon of left-leaning Third Party attempts. What I'm sure Escapefromwisconsin knows and I think correctly recognizes is that the radical vision of equality and a commitment to the common good that a genuine non-neoliberal communitarian Left movement would have as its core political philosophy is something anathema to most Americans. At best, you can only hint at the disillusion of Middle America as Trump has done by dog-whistling to the racial, cultural, and social resentments which the declining deindustrializing economy stirs up.

    4. Nick, exactly. This post is about Trump, not Sanders, and did you notice the link in the article?

      Of course I would prefer a Sanders victory, but even so, how much could he do with all the other institutions of government captured by the two mainstream political parties loyal to the donor class? Not much, but it would at least be a symbolic victory. The best thing he could do is push for campaign finance reform a la Lawrence Lessig and use the bully pulpit to denounce those who vote against it. Hatred of legalized bribery transcends party lines and cuts through the identity-affiliation bullshit.

      The fact is, the American political system is not designed to reflect the will of the people. And it's heavily biased against third parties. It's a political realism that the wealthy will do anything to avoid a repeat of FDR, which to this day they view as an unacceptable defeat.

    5. I did notice the link to Sanders speaking about the Kochs and open borders. I find it interesting, from a totally cynical viewpoint by the way, that right-wing libertard oligarchs share an open borders philosophy with some of the identity politics pimps (Bourgeois Identity Politics Pimps = BLIPPs) on the Left. It creates multiple layers of social conflict that only sophisticated and independent-minded observers can see through

  2. Another brilliant post.

    I'll have to read it in depthn later. I just dropped in to say I read through an architectural magazine today, The Architectural Record, I believe, and I've never seen so many FUGLY buildings in my life!

  3. People who talk about Trump as a fascist are simply talking their way into irrelevance. It's a decent thing to think about from a historical perspective, and I read a good article about it on Vox, but in terms of political debate it's a non-starter.

    Consider an actual engagement with a Trump voter; I know one personally (an actual salt-of-the-earth below-100-IQ redneck, not one of the ironic Internet trolls who flash his photo in their video games). Telling this guy "Trump is a fascist" or "Trump is paving the road to fascism" accomplishes nothing at all other than to alienate yourself from him. The real question is the basis of his disillusionment from the political process that causes him to identify with a completely unqualified candidate. To really understand that problem, the drug overdose death article you linked here is an excellent starting point.

    Furthermore, the "end of the Republican party" meme has been repeated for over a decade now, and the party shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Meanwhile, the people who repeat this meme latch on to Bernie Sanders, who is so unlikely to win the nomination that Trump possibly doesn't know his name.

    1. That's true, and this post discusses Trump's campaign as Fascist from an intellectual and historical angle, not as a form of name-calling or disparagement. But, you'll notice that the Republican mainstream started hauling out and tossing around the F-word in their latest campaign to discredit Trump, and as you said, it had no effect whatsoever. And for the exactly the reasons you described - the Republicans can't understand his appeal to disaffected Americans, and they can't copy it for fear of offending the donor class who funds them and determines their agenda for who everything is going exactly as planned.

  4. This is a wonderful post! However, I have one disagreement with you-and I'll make it quick.

    America's culture is a culture of money making and nothing else, but it wasn't always that way. This country was a whole collage of rich cultures-the Amish, the Gullah, the Cajun, the Shakers, the Yankees of New England, the various indigenous peoples, etc. It was the push to consumerism that brought these cultures to their knees, however, and turned this land into an homogenized wasteland.

    As for Trump, your article is spot on! I don't, however, think that Hillary Clinton as president will do the country any better. Her husband brought in NAFTA, GATT, killed Glass-Steagall, ended 'welfare as we know it,' and did nothing to improve access to health care. There has been no real third-party movement that has picked up any steam, mainly because the third-parties lack any real organization and only seem to run to make a statement. Sadly, I think that the American people are caught between a rock and a hard place and that the only thing left for them to do is to prepare for peak oil, leave the system all together(or as much as is possible) stop voting, and reach out to other like-minded people for networking.

    That's it.

    1. I agree, and I think that is one of the weaker parts of Berman's argument - that we were doomed to the hustling lifestyle since day one. I don't know if that's true.

      Where I live was once called "The German Athens," for its intellectual quality. It had a thriving, prosperous middle class of small manufacturers and craftsmen presided over by socialist politicians. It was also called "cream city" for the color of the locally-sourced brick which gave the city a unified and distinctive look, not unlike Paris. Not anymore. The buildings were knocked down for freeways and parking lots, the socialists were replaced by mainstream Democrats, and the city became a crumbling ghetto as whites fled to the suburbs and became Republicans.

      So I agree that it was after World War Two that the country became a hollowed-out shell of drive-through consumerism and top-down social managment. The point is still valid, though, there is no longer any American cuture to be worth saving, and what little there is is rapidly being hollowed out by gentrification (New Orleans, New York, San Franscisco, etc.)

    2. I definitely resonate with your observations of how ugly architecture has spread through the U.S. like a disease. At my young age, even though I'd like to see many big box retail outlets, parking lots, aging strip-malls, and freeways that spoil this country like tumors get knocked down then replaced by livelier architectures, I don't think I will even if I live past 3oo.

  5. I honestly this ties into your piece about the dying Americans, so I'm some working class white American living in a post industrial wasteland like Gary, Indiana, my life and my environment are in shambles. If I can get work it's at the dollar store or KFC where I've got to work for some idiot who talks about making your work your passion, and I barely get by, soothing myself every night with opiates or booze. Then this guy, who's rich and successful gets up on TV and tells me that he'll make America great again and by proxy my life great again. I'd vote for him.

    1. Bingo - I'm glad someone noticed! It does tie in, which is why I posted it now. See, there is some method to the madness of topics here sometimes ;-)

  6. I've been a downscale white all my life. For a while, from 1997-2007, I grossed $70k a year, but I had to work awfully hard for it. The years before this, and after, I've had earnings in the $5k-$20k range. I make about $10k now. Owning a house, getting a college degree, have always been, and always be, out of reach for me, although I ruined my life trying to achieve the latter.

    I understand the anger. I grew up where whites are a persecuted minority. I got the hell out of there by working hard and living like a monk. The area I escaped to, southern California, is also very biased against whites, in my field, which was electronics tech. Trust me the anger is real. I was prone to saying things like how we each ought to shoot one Mexican and take their machine shop job, since the shops would not hire whites.

    This is what we're up against. If I hadn't discovered self employment, I literally can easily envision myself becoming a high level officer and or hit man in a neo-nazi organization.

    But eBay saved me; on line they can't tell what race you are. And when that petered out for me, I learned that I can go out and bustle just about anything. It's a big jump to learn not to be dependent on a boss, but the water's great once you do.

    And I !earned,by being out buying and selling and being out among people rather than staring at an oscilloscope and circuit boards all day, that there are great people out there of all colors and religions etc.

    I've got a LOT more in common with a Mexican flower seller or house painter or the black street musicians I hang out with than with other whites who have any money at all, even members of my own family. Whites with money treat whites without money like shit. Hell, whites without money treat whites without money like shit.

    1. Exactly. White Americans have completely bought into the "make your own way" rugged individualist Ayn Rand pablum hook-line-and-sinker, which is why they are dying off, not because of Mexicans. And sadly, the lower down the scale you are, the more you buy into that rhetoric - rich people are always giving each other loans and jobs, whereas the lower class believes that you need to "make your own way." That's one major reason my family is extinct. No one can survive alone in a dog-eat-dog society like this one.

      I remember when the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" became popular. Conservative Republicans had a meltdown, bellowing "It doesn't take a village, it takes a *family*!!!, in other words, a suburban, nuclear family living alone, cut-off from everyone else, even close relatives, surviving by the grace of the biweekly paycheck and nothing else. Similarly, the reaction to Obama as a "community organizer;" the very word "community" is a dirty word to white Americans, who see it as a code word for "black." That is, white people don't need or have "communities," only minorities do.

      Mexicans do hang together as all immigrant communities do, which is why they are doing better. But yeah, if you are on the outside it sucks. In SoCal, it's also true of the Koreans and Armenians, among others. That's led some people to see L.A. as just a Balkanized tinderbox, and maybe so, but it also gives vibrancy and resilience. I notice that more and more newer immigrant groups tend to maintain ties with the old country (family, language), because they see the U.S. has no future. To them, it's just a place to put in your time and make some money, but not to stay or have any sort of life. By contrast, white Americans were specifically cut off from their ancestral roots, especially German-Americans due to a concerted effort during the two wars. I know Greek and Serbian families who have relatives in both countries and come and go quite a bit, and they are happier and more successful than natives. This comment I cited earlier makes that observation:

    2. It's easier to be white up here in the Bay Area. Still not as easy as being in a more cohesive tribe, but sure as hell easier than in Hawaii, or southern California.

      And as much as I hold no fear of other races, all of my jobs,places to live (other than when I was young, and in college*) and opportunities in general have been due to help from fellow whites. So it is very wise to be where your tribe is strong. You may not realize how good you have it in Wisconsin...

      Americans don't take vacations the way people in first world nations do because they can't afford it, and they are given almost no vacation time, and taking a couple of weeks off can mean losing their jobs. Workers at the bottom tend to have no vacation at all; as Albert Camus noted of his Deaf, dishwasher uncle, his vacations were only when he got sick or injured.

      *When I was ages 18 - 24, I lived in rooms or apartments owned and managed by nonwhites, who were the group in power. The experiences were uniformly shitty. Just like the experiences working for nonwhites. If I sound racist, maybe I am, because it's survival and common sense. It doesn't mean I'm gonna go shooting church ladies, although I might spend some money at their bake sale. But for instance, I'm not gonna hire someone who's not white to work for me, because I've seen how nonwhites gain power and force whites out. Fortunately if I'm ever in a position to hire, it will be a few people at most so I could only hire whites just like the market I go to can only hire Chinese. It's big companies where the crap starts.

    3. Another thing Americans used to do was join fraternal groups. The Eagles,the Odd Fellows, the Foresters, etc. I believe there's a resurgence of this going on now, as people are realizing the life is all about networking.

      This is why goof-offs with rich parents who sent them to the right colleges can get together and skip classes and set up these companies like yahoo and Google and Facebook. They sailed on a well-connected sea of F's to billions of dollars. US working class types, if we can even get in have to be brilliant and real book-grinders, and live like monks and do almost no networking. This is why STEM is a ripoff unless you want to be some corporation's tool until you reach age 45 or so, then you work the night shift stocking shelves.

      Yes, I'd have been far, far better off if I'd gone for an art degree and goofed off a lot, doing things like perfecting my already decent Robin Williams impressions.

  7. So was FDR who mass incarcerated innocent Japanese people (and some Germans as well) on even less grounds a fascist? was he a huge threat to American values and identity? The people have him 4 terms and he died in office.

    And don't try the war excuse, we are at both hot and cold war with a number of state and non state Islamist groups, all of whom have proven to be every bit as violent as Imperial Japan.

    And the Left and the Right uniting? Give me a break. Maybe in order to wipe of the Neo-Liberals sure but otherwise the two ideologies socially have nothing in common. The enemy of my enemy is my enemies enemy nothing more nothing less as Schlock Mercenary would say

    Back when the US was basically White/Black and a smattering you could maybe have pulled off some kind of compromise , but that ethnic mix and general consensus is long gone.

    better instead to let the US fall into smaller more homogeneous nations

    Now politically I'm much like the European Right but typical American Conservatives don't want to be governed by Cultural Marxists and don't want to pay for a high tax state and don't want gun control or abortion. Much of the Right wants a default Christian state.

    its not a divide an conquer thing but actual values that differ too much for discussion.

    Why should anyone help people who wants things they abhor?

    Also we've done the village raise a child thing with State schools and after the 80's or so, its become increasingly a failure.

    It ends up "All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state."

    Its far better to home-school, own your own business that employs only family and to use private networking for areas where you and your hopefully extended family is weak.

    As for the nuclear family, its the smallest stable unit and that is why the corporate class likes it, less sharing and more churn. Its obsolete now though and will end up with more extended families anyway. Its the only way people can defend against wage arbitrage.

    1. Was just watching THE GOOD DINOSAUR recently and this came to mind. While the movie is seemingly a cartoon aimed at kids, it depicts a society of dinosaurs that consist of nothing but separate nuclear family units that don't interact with each other and everyone seems self-sufficient. It's cartoon dinosaurs acting out a ridiculous fantasy of the Old West as Americans would have liked to remember it. More than it actually was. Amazing how this nonsense is being insidiously fed to children too.

    2. This is a prime example of the "Flintstonization of history" - the projection of our modern ways of living on the cultures of the past in order to make our current highly unusual arrangements seem normal. Every society seeks to normalize its lifestyle choices and limit alternatives, and the fact that even cartoon dinosaurs are living like high-consuming middle-class Americans (dinosaurs, not even people!) shows just how deep this indoctrination goes. Yes, kids, the middle-class consumerist suburban lifestyle is what you should aspire to. Even the dinosaurs loved it! Maybe *that's* why they went extinct; they just lost all their jobs, lol!

    3. (to main comment)
      Bad comparison. FDR's campaigns were not expressly formulated around demonizing specific groups of people as the main problem with country or the main source of the nation's woes. In fact, I read that the early moments toward Civil rights which culminated in the 1960s began under Roosevelt; the article was documenting the flight of voters from Democrats to Republicans in Dixie (which it found coincided exactly with the intensity of civil rights legislation put forward by Democrats).

      FDR was more centered around ameliorating the economic pain of the America's downtrodden workers and developing the nation's economy. In that, he's closer to Bernie Sanders. Trump talks a good game about middle class pain, but aside from deportations he's made precious few concrete proposals that will make a difference to do anything about it.

      I agree on one point - I think Civil Rights was good an necessary. But other attempts at top-down social engineering and forced--note the word--integration boomeranged and were failures. They had the *opposite* effect. Busing left African Americans even more segregated than before, with lousy schools and wrecked communities to boot. Affirmative Action turned college and work into a zero-sum game played by lower-class blacks and whites for the few spots in the middle class (by design?), and bred resentment. Crime is crime, and everyone should be equal under the law, but you cannot force people to be enlightened or to not associate with whomever they wish to. It always backfires. Best to let natural social forces do that. In other words, ending legal discrimination is a good thing, but social engineering usually has unintended consequences.


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