Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Obligatory Post Election Blog Post: Part 7--The Fascism Issue

Part 2: I think I've Become Very Out of Touch
Part 3 I Was Wrong. I Was so so so SO Wrong
Part 4 All the Reasons It Seemed Donald Trump Could Never Win
Part 5: All the Reasons Donald Trump Actually Won
and Part 6 The Racism Issue

There's been a lot of talk about Fascism this past year.

Some people on the Left have been straight out calling Donald Trump's campaign Fascist.  Some other people on the Left have been ridiculing this idea and calling it alarmist.

I have, with my typical inconsistency, retweeted both views in my twitter feed over the past year.  I can be easily swayed from one view to the other depending on whom I reading at the moment.

But I have, at least at times, thought we were witnessing a Fascist movement this election year.  And I maintain those concerns.

Just to be perfectly clear, though, I have never in a million years thought that we were on the verge of something like an American Holocaust.
(I tend to believe that the Holocaust is sui generis and should be discussed as its own separate craziness, and not as part of Fascism.  Certainly when Mussolini started the Fascist movement in the 1920s, he never dreamed of anything like the Holocaust.  Some people may disagree with this, and view the Holocaust as a natural outgrowth of Fascism.  Feel free to make your case in the comments.)

 Also, I've never really worried about Fascism taking over America.  I have enough faith in the institutions of American government.  They may be deeply flawed, but I believe they are stable.  (Other people may disagree with this as well.  Feel free to comment.)

But Fascists popular movements can still spring up in the United States, even if I believe they have no chance of success.  And Donald Trump's campaign may show elements of it.  Possibly.  But let's look at the evidence first.

What is Fascism?

One of the books I read about linguisticsAn Introduction to Language, made an interesting point about the inherent ambiguity of language.
I'm quoting from memory here, so you'll have to forgive the roughness of this quote, but one of the points they made is that political terms like communism and democracy have no universally agreed upon meaning.  And yet, people passionately argue about these words all the time as if they had clear and precise meanings.

I don't know about you, but many of the political debates I've been in during my life (probably most of them) have actually been semantic debates.  What does socialism really mean?  What does democracy really mean?  Is China a communist country or a capitalist country?  Which countries are truly socialist?  Is Obama a socialist?

I've learned over the years that there is such wide disagreement over what the terms "socialism", "communism", and "democracy" mean, that it's all but pointless to have a discussion about it.

And "fascism" is even more confusing.

Socialism is, at least in the political science classroom, somewhat clearly defined.
Your average man on the street, who thinks Obama is a socialist because he raised taxes, is of course confused.  But if you attend meetings of doctrinaire Trostykist groups (as I did when I lived in Australia) then they have pages and pages of doctrines from Marx and Lenin clearly spelling out what socialism is and what it isn't.

No such writings exist from the Fascist movement.  It was, even at its prime, a movement that was always somewhat confused about what it's core doctrines really were.
To quote Wikipedia: "Historians, political scientists, and other scholars have long debated the exact nature of fascism. Each interpretation of fascism is distinct, leaving many definitions too wide or narrow."

All we can really say is: (1) Something happened in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, and
(2) We can make certain comments about how it played out historically.

I'm going to be focusing mainly on Spain and Italy, because I think what happened in Germany belongs in its own category.

So, what is Fascism?

* Fascism was a revolutionary populist movement.  It was populist in the sense that it appealed directly to the lower-classes.  It was revolutionary in that it advocated by-passing the traditional mechanisms of government and relying on violence to achieve power.

* Communism was also a revolutionary populist movement.  And so Communism and Fascism could have similar appeals to the working class.  And in fact, in countries like Italy many of the same people flirted with both ideologies.  (I think this was less true in Spain.)
But although Fascism and Communism may have had similar appeals, as organized groups they were always violently opposed to each other.
The Fascists had been disturbed by the Communist uprisings in Spain and Italy.  The Fascists wanted radical populist reforms just as much as the communists did, but they were frightened by all these godless atheistic Jewish intellectuals in the communist party. The Fascists wanted economic reform, but they didn't want to completely get rid of the traditional religion and values.  They wanted to maintain the authority of the Catholic Church,  and keep a hierarchical society.

Fascism, particularly in Spain and Yugoslavia, had a very strong relationship with the Catholic Church.  In Spain especially, if you were not a Catholic, you were very unlikely to be a Fascist.
In Italy, the relationship with the Catholic Church was a bit rocky at first, but an accommodation was quickly made.  (Germany, a traditionally Protestant country, was the exception, and the relationship with the Church was a lot more complicated there.)
Communism, by contrast, was atheistic in theory, and the Communist Party was mostly made up of secularists.

Also Communism was (at least in theory) supposed to be international in its outlook and embrace an international proletarian revolution.  Fascism, by contrast, was always nationalistic.  Fascism was about making your own country stronger and having pride in your own nationality.  Working class people with strong national pride would be attracted more to Fascism than to Communism.

* Because nationalism has always been such a strong part of Fascism, groups that are not part of the national racial majority were looked upon as enemies.

* In countries where Fascism had strong ties to the Catholic Church (Spain and Italy and Yugoslavia) minority religions were looked upon as enemies.

* Fascism was authoritarian.  In all the countries were Fascism gained dominance, they did not allow any freedom to opposing views.

* Fascism was always characterized by violence in all the countries in which it gained dominance.

* In all the countries in which it gained dominance, Fascism removed any constitutional protections on human rights.  It was associated with brutality and it had a reputation of being associated with torture.

*Fascism was associated with militarism

(By the way, I'm not a professional historian, I'm just a nerd.  So if I got any of that wrong, someone let me know in the comment section).

Donald Trump's Campaign

So, at this point, the parallels to Donald Trump's campaign should be leaping out at you.

*  It is right-wing populism.  However it was antagonistic to Communism and Socialist intellectuals.

* It is closely associated with the dominant religion.  (81% of White Evangelicals voted for Trump).

* It is nationalistic.

* Donald's Trump threats to open up the libel laws and sue all the newspapers has been associated with silencing the opposition.

* Trump has enthusiastically embraced Torture:
"Torture works. OK, folks? You know, I have these guys—”Torture doesn’t work!”—believe me, it works. And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question: What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding." (see here)

* Minority religions are viewed with suspicion:
"Donald Trump’s policy advisers are discussing plans to establish a registry for Muslim immigrants in the US, a man believed to be a key member of the President-elect's transition team has revealed." (see here)

* The Trump campaign demonized immigrant groups

* Donald Trump has expressed militaristic views:
"I would bomb the s--- out of 'em. I would just bomb those suckers. That's right. I'd blow up the pipes. ... I'd blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left. And you know what, you'll get Exxon to come in there and in two months, you ever see these guys, how good they are, the great oil companies? They’ll rebuild that sucker, brand new — it'll be beautiful." (see here)

* Trump often used violent rhetoric against people who opposed him at rallies:
"You know what I hate? There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches. We’re not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks." (see here)

*Many of Donald Trump rallies have been associated with violence, particularly toward minority people.  (see here)

And finally, the Fascists themselves view Donald Trump as one of their own.  All the groups in America that explicitly self-identify with the Fascist ideology have come out and endorsed Donald Trump for President.

So to my mind there is no doubt.  There are definitely elements of Fascism in Donald Trump's campaign.

But then, what of it?  There were a lot of the same elements in George Wallace's campaign.  And in Richard Nixon's campaign.

Some of this has always been part of the ugly side of American politics.

I think this is the worst we've ever seen it so far, but it is still just part of a spectrum.


I mentioned this before, but apparently It Can't Happen Here by Lewis Sinclair is selling like hot cakes all of a sudden.  Amazon is currently out of stock of the book.

My own review of the book (from way back in 2006) is here.

In my review, I write:

...with apologies to Sinclair Lewis, I’d say that this rapid transition to Fascism can’t happen here. Not the way he portrays it at least. 
And that's what I still believe.  Donald Trump's campaign may definitely have courted elements of Fascism, but (to repeat what I said earlier) I believe the institutions of American government are stable enough to withstand this.  There are enough checks and balances in the American system to prevent any one group from getting too powerful.  And as long as a lot of people still oppose Donald Trump (and a lot of people still do) then we won't be seeing a rapid conversion to a Fascist state anytime soon.

....but then again, I've been wrong before, so...

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