Donald Trump must not be treated as the cause of the recent debacle of American democracy – its attempted usurpation by fascistic forces. He may have been the catalyst for this ugly scenario but it arose from conditions that are endemic and systemic. We have to remember and accept that 73 million Americans voted for him in the last election. As Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff explain, it is in fact the relentless bipartisan entrenchment of neo-liberal economics by both Republicans and Democrats that has brought this demon seed to fruit. Donald Trump has simply, “peel[ed] back the gilded veneer of democracy in America. His presidency has revealed what neoliberalism has wrought: a post-democratic U.S. ripe for fascism.”
The decimation of America’s public sector and its national industries in cynical programmes of privatization and globalization, as well as the hollowing out of American society by the depletion of support and services for its most vulnerable, have reduced American democracy to being a lifeless shadow of its imagined self. As Peter Fairman shows, while the Reagan administration pushed privatization forward as an overt political ideology, Clinton sold the privatization as a politically neutral management reform. Neoliberal devastation his has been a bipartisan adventure.
As Higdon and Huff go on to say, “Democracy ceases to exist unless the citizenry participates in and respects the process, put its faith in and defends public institutions, accepts verifiable electoral results, and attains the critical thinking and media literacy skills necessary to make well informed and sophisticated decisions.” While the United States of America is our case-in-point, I believe that these criteria are not met in numerous other failing democracies across the world.
In an essay titled Ur Fascism, Umberto Eco lists 14 Fascistic characteristics. This essay appeared in the June 22, 1995 issue of the New York Review. I have taken the liberty of encapsulating Eco’s explanation of these characteristics as follows – 1. A penchant for traditionalism 2. The rejection of modernism 3. The cult of action 4. A prohibition of disagreement 5. A fear of difference 6. An appeal to the middle class 7. A belief in conspiracy theories 8. A feeling of humiliation 9. The glorification of war 10. A contempt for weakness 11. The cult of heroism 12. The cult of machismo 13. A charismatic populism 14. A stupefaction of language
It is instructive to compare, contrast and combine this list with Robert Paxton’s List from his The Anatomy of Fascism which I present in my post titled It’s Time to be Clear 3. It is imperative, given the unprecedented storming of Capitol Hill by Trump supporters, that Americans and, indeed, people of all nations consider their national polity in these terms. As we move deeper into the 21st Century, many other exemplars of democracy, albeit of less consequence on the world stage than the USA, will fare just as badly, if measured against these criteria.
For Americans, I suggest that this means more than seeking retribution from the Donald. While I do not doubt that he is culpable, I feel that such simplistic scapegoating, belies the true nature of American exceptionalism, of the bipartisan dialectic of its military-industrial project: War on Crime – Globalization – War on Terror – Yes, we Can! – Make America Great Again! The Republican Party will want to purge the memory of their willing Trumpian engagement from the record and the Democrats will want to foreground this entanglement for political advantage, but all this will distract us from their reciprocal complicity in their nation descent from democracy into oligarchy and authoritarianism.
Fascism must be distinguished from other kinds of authoritarianism and dictatorship and according to Gaetano Salvemini its key characteristic is the displacement of democracy and due process by what Robert Paxton has paraphrased as the “acclamation of the street.” Unlike other forms of oppression, fascism redirects the peoples’ passions into “an obligatory domestic unity” based on scapegoating within the nation and xenophobia without. In this definition the term ‘fascist’ can not be applied to even the most oppressive predemocratic dictatorships as it involves the idea of sliding away from free institutions in pursuit of a nationalist imperative.
In The Anatomy of Fascism Paxton proposes five stages in this decline. Stage One is the establishment of radical Right movements with some explicit or implicit link to fascism. He asserts that this has been the situation in “every industrial, urbanized society with mass politics” since the end of World War II. In Stage Two, these movements become rooted in their political systems as the mainstream elites start to cultivate and direct them against purported internal enemies. Stage Three is the seizure of power, Stage Four, the exercise of power and Stage Five involves the movements radicalization or entropy.