“When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’”
Halford E. Luccock, Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938)
The emergence of Donald Trump, Republican frontrunner, is not a joke.
His rise isn’t, say, indicted former Governor of Texas Rick Perry developing sudden amnesia during a GOP debate in 2012. It isn’t former awful pizza company CEO Herman Cain’s creepy grin. As much as Trump is a blustering buffoon like Perry or a caricature of the greedy businessman stereotype like Cain, there’s nothing funny about his emergence at the head of the Republican pack.
It’s not funny because the folks coalescing around Trump as supporters and allies are already hurting people. A Trump supporter in Mobile, AL proposed permits to murder undocumented immigrants at the southern border. Trump supporters in Boston beat and urinated upon a homeless Hispanic man, and the most recent incident of ad hoc political violence against a protester at one of Trump’s rallies is the third by my count. The implications of this all are not good, and the main worry I have is that the gap between disorganized political violence and organized political violence is minuscule, and is already being jumped over.
Just like discussions of killing baby Hitler as a hypothetical way to head off atrocities like the Holocaust ignores the fact that the NSDAP was a political movement with a base of support that was actively able to contest state power, focusing too much on Donald Trump the person conceals the conditions that are allowing a malignant political movement to form around him. When you get right down to it, the only way to stop ‘Trumpism’ (if you can call it that) is by understanding the groups of people who are feeding his rise.
Trump’s supporters and their sympathizers are not stupid. They are not crazy. They are angry and afraid. They are a product of the current economic crisis and the government’s tepid response to it. They see flat or declining wages and slow job growth in their communities. They see the good jobs they had being offshored, leaving them to work at Walmart for nine dollars an hour. They know people who have lost their homes to foreclosure because of job loss. They know people who have had to file bankruptcy because of lack of health insurance. They are a people who look backwards and see their lives having being materially better than what their kids will ever get.
Bluntly put, these people are those the recovery has left behind, and Trump’s appeal to them is that he gives a simple, straightforward explanation about what the problems facing them are and what the solutions to those problems require. In a prior age or a different country, the labor movement would stand in the gap here, organizing these folks and pushing for changes to public policy that would arrest or even reverse the conditions that have made things worse for these people. Instead, with the unions’ power at a historical nadir and no other working class political institutions, it’s not a surprise that a well-groomed salesman with a message that’s compatible with existing narratives is able to go far.
What’s worse? The establishment doesn’t know how to deal with this state of affairs. Calling him a misogynist won’t hurt him. Whining about him having an anchor and journalist for Univision frog-marched out of a presser for being confrontational won’t hurt him. Bringing up his hypocrisy won’t hurt him. Noted reactionary lumpy bag of oatmeal/rhetorician Frank Luntz has found, to his chagrin, that bringing up all of these things makes his supporters like him more. Compounding all of this is the liberal tendency to smugly talk a streak of shit about the South and its people, which makes it harder for people working for actual change. What these folks fail to realize is that capital mobility ensures that the problems of the South do not remain the problems of the South, and that what starts here will spread elsewhere.
The capstone on all of this is who has been anointed to carry the banner for the Democratic Party in 2016, allegedly the party of working people. Who has the Democratic establishment, in their infinite wisdom, selected to do battle with Trump in the general? Hillary Clinton. Hillary ‘I-am-now-opposed-to-this-trade-agreement’ Clinton. Hillary ‘I-still-defend-welfare-reform’ Clinton. If we are going to attempt to keep the movement forming around Trump from being a lasting thing, middling neoliberal centrism and triangulation isn’t going to be the solution. After all, on some issues like opposition to Social Security cuts Trump is already to the left of parts of the Democratic Party.
I’m writing this on the evening of the anniversary of the Bogalusa Massacre, where a Black man named Sol Dacus faced down the owners of the world’s largest lumber mill shoulder to shoulder with white men who were members of AFL unions. All of this occurred at a time when white supremacy and unionism went hand in hand and Jim Crow was ascendant all across Dixie. While these brave men were not successful in bringing the bosses or their state to heel, the overwhelmingly violent reaction to these union organizers by the government and the company proves just how much of a threat working class solidarity is to the politics of reaction. It is the only effective inoculation against the politics advanced by Trump.
The only anvil upon which Trumpism can be broken is a strong leftist political movement that advances the interests of the working class. Nothing else will suffice. And make no mistake, Trump’s supporters are fascists similar to the others in American history, like the Red Shirts in the post-Reconstruction South and their heirs, the pro-segregation forces that battled the Civil Rights Movement. Trump’s biggest fans are blackshirts in much the same way as the German American Bund and the Fascist League of North America. The difference is that these previous fascisms were all limited in appeal by geography or to constituencies of specific immigrant groups. What makes the group of people coalescing in a movement around Trump truly frightening, and a worker-based fightback so necessary, is that they do not face such limitations.
The core of a durable and national fascist movement in the United States is forming, and it’s here to Make America Great Again unless we do something about it.