Unite against Fascism 9
Final call on Trump: He won because the Republicans in the very end all broke for him; because rural and uneducated voters switched from Democrat to Republican; because Democrats broke, many going for Sanders or Stein; and because of voter suppression.
Any lingering doubts that this is a straightforward fascist administration are removed by the plan to separate women from their children in repatriation of undocumented immigrants. This is what Hitler did with the Jews, and Trump’s people surely know that.
High-handed repeal of all of Obama’s last-minute measures is less clear-cut. But even the most sensible and long overdue and not particularly “liberal” ones are being repealed. Banning lead shot in federal wildlife refuges is one example; it hurts no one (except a few hunters with old guns) and saves millions of birds and other animals.
I have been reading histories of fascism lately, in particular Michael Mann’s Fascists (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism (Knopf, 2004). They remove all doubt that we are facing a full-scale fascist administration and a Republican Party totally dominated by fascists. Reading Paxton’s book, in particular, I continually had to remind myself that it was published in 2004, before the rise of Trump, and he was not writing with one eye on the Trump administration.
Both books define fascism very narrowly—basically as popular, militaristic movements with wide support across classes and what we would now call demographics, and with paramilitary organizations that glorify, and carry out, violence. This restricts the term to Germany, Italy, and a few neighboring countries in the 1930s and 1940s, though the authors are quick to see similarities with modern movements like Milosevic’s in Serbia in the 1990s. I define fascism more broadly: as an authoritarian but mass-based regime based on mobilizing hatred and antagonism in the service of big business, big agriculture, and other rich right-wing interests. Hitler and Mussolini came rather slowly to make the big-money connections, but depended on them once they were fully in power. But even by the two authors’ very narrow criteria, Trump’s administration is fascist.
The rise of Mussolini and Hitler was exactly like the rise of Trump, with one major exception—so far: The Republicans have not (yet) mobilized the KKK and other paramilitary groups to create violence. Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Brownshirts were critically important. Ironically, the KKK was the world’s first right-wing uniformed paramilitary group. It could be—and may be starting to be—a great arm of the Republicans.
These books also provide a lot of hope. Fascist movements did not win except when orthodox politicians were disunited. Civil society in countries like Hungary and France prevented the rise of fascism until Hitler actually took them over.
Fascist-like regimes include many in which Trump-like figures took over and committed genocide. Preposterous but highly charismatic leaders in history are rather few, but some Roman emperors who took over in coups certainly qualify. China lacks such, except for the rather demented first emperor of Ming and a few coup leaders. A few kings in old Europe might qualify. Hereditary monarchy makes it difficult for evil clowns to rise. Brutal, bloody tyrants from Nero to Tamerlane arose regularly, but they had to be competent and clever as well as murderous. Only in the modern state can bureaucracy run the country, allowing a mentally unstable and incompetent person to rule.
Recently, however, we have a striking range of leaders who combine posturing and grandstanding, a politics of hatred and extremism, and utter irresponsibility and incompetence. These people may be termed evil clowns. Mussolini certainly fits the pattern. Hitler was too sinister and wily, but was certainly populist and extreme enough. The Communist bosses such as Stalin and Mao were extreme and populist, but eminently successful at controlling the state.
More recent are the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Suharto in Indonesia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Milosevic in Serbia and his opposite number Tudjman in Croatia, Gaddafi in Libya, Bokassa in the Central African Republic (“Empire”), Idi Amin in Uganda, the Interahamwe in Rwanda, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Rios Montt in Guatemala, Roberto D’Aubuisson in El Salvador, Fujimori in Peru, Pinochet in Chile, and perhaps two dozen other such figures. Eventually they indulged in mass murder simply to maintain some sort of order; they failed to do that by any other means. Most of them lasted only a few years before their madness or inability to control themselves (let alone their countries) ended their rule. A few, such as Rios Montt, were competent enough to survive, though losing their mandate. Only Mugabe seems to hang on indefinitely.
There are a few cases of democratically elected populist clowns who did not commit mass murder: Berlusconi in Italy, Mahathir bin Mohamed in Malaysia, Narendra Modi so far in India, and a very few others. Special circumstances existed in these cases. Almost all these leaders emerged in impoverished former colonies. Trump is truly unusual in bringing this sort of politics home to the United States. We have previously exported it, colluding in the creation and rise of Rios Montt, D’Aubuisson, and Pinochet.
Trump won by taking advantage of the Democratic party division: he won because so many Sanders loyalists defected to Stein or did not vote at all. Yes, there were other reasons, but that one was decisive in the end. If the Democrats reunite, they are unstoppable. No one except the current Republican elite and hard-right really wants fascism, and many Trump voters are already waking up to realize they did nothing but damage themselves.
On the other hand, if the Democrats do not unite, the fascists will certainly institute dictatorship and begin mass murder, as they did in Italy, Germany, and every other country where fascist or fascist-like authoritarian regimes took over. I have now studied over 115 cases of genocide and mass political killing, and found there is an invariable order: an extremist group defining itself by hate takes over, declares dictatorship, and promptly starts mass murder to consolidate control. Several other scholars, including Barbara Harff, Gregory Stanton, and Samuel Totten, have independently found the same sequence. Fascists are only the most extreme of these murderous regimes; any authoritarian government is apt to do it, and even quite a few elected democratic regimes (most recently Duterte’s in the Philippines).
The Trump campaign, and, so far, the Trump administration have been far toward the extreme end of the hatred distribution. They have campaigned against Muslims, blacks, Latinxs, LGBTQ’s, women, atheists, liberals, Jews, and a range of other categories—the list seems very open-ended, like Hitler’s. Very few regimes, even fascist ones, have been so indiscriminate in their hatreds. This is the worst possible sign. We are in for catastrophe if they are not stopped.
The likely scenario is for Trump’s economic policies to produce recession or depression—as they would certainly do, if carried out—or for Trump to start a war. (Indeed, both might happen.) This would give the administration an opportunity to declare a state of emergency, suspend the Constitution, and begin jailings and then murders.
The suppression of the press and the mass arrests and deportations of immigrants are clear indications that a police state is in the works. More serious is the utter callousness with which the Republicans are working to eliminate not only Obamacare but also Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, and other programs. They are well aware that this would lead to literally millions of excess deaths, as well as massive economic disruption—billions of dollars taken out of circulation. They are not even pretending any more to do this to shrink the government; the money is being diverted to war, to security for Trump’s family, to subsidies for giant firms (especially oil), and to other big-government ends.
The order of genocide is reasonably predictable from what Republicans have been saying. They will begin with obvious political dissidents, especially the ones that scare them most: Independent, honest journalists. Next will be the LGBTQ community, already targeted; Kevin Swanson, a leading Repubican radio preacher, has called for exterminating them. Next will come the leaders of minority communities, especially Black and Latinx. Academic leftists and environmental activists will also be high priority, along with activist teachers and educators. The Republicans, like fascists everywhere, are particularly opposed to education (they want indoctrination only), and desirous of controlling it and crushing educators.
So, unite in peaceful resistance. It works. (See Chenoweth, Erica, and Maria Stephan. 2012. Why Civil Resistance Works. New York: Columbia University Press.)
Violent resistance is beginning to show up—in Berkeley, of course—and merely makes the situation worse, so far. Copying fascist tactics against fascists simply gives them the game.
A huge problem the Republicans face is that they are now made up of three constituencies: far-right business interests, overwhelmingly dominated by Big Oil and their financiers (look at Trump’s cabinet); white supremacists; and religious bigots, the far-right-wing “Christian” elements. Accommodating those three puts the Republican leadership in a difficult position. The white supremacists and religious extremists do not necessarily love big business. The businessmen are aware that rule by the other two groups would ruin the economy, and as businessmen they are not enthusiastic about that. The result seems to be, so far, accommodating all by giving in to their most extreme, damaging wants.
More clear announcements of genocidal intent: Trump’s designated White House aide Sebastian Gorka, who is Hungarian, wore the diagnostic medal and bocskai jacket of the Order of Vitez, of which he is a member. This was the military order created by the Horthy regime in 1930s-40s Hungary, which collaborated with Hitler, enabled his takeover of Hungary, and directly eliminated 600,000 Jews. This announces clear and unambiguous sympathy not only with anti-Semitism but with genocide. It is the first directly pro-genocide statement by actual members of the Trump administration.
The biggest losers from Trump’s election will be the ordinary hourly-wage workers. They will lose unions; the Republicans will pass “Right to Work” bills. Their medical care will be gutted. They will lose at least some of Social Security. They will lose consumer protection, which cuts worst to the working poor—they have to buy things, and they are most at the mercy of the cheap, sleazy sellers, whether it be housing or tools or food that is being sold.
Minorities will be heavy losers, as the government favors bigots and bullies over minority rights.
The unemployed—not just those seeking work, but retired people, children, and so on—will be next, for similar reasons. They start worse off than the workers and have less to lose, but they will suffer even more.
Next will come farmers, who will lose some large percentage of their labor supply as Trump cracks down on illegal immigrants. They voted about 4-1 for Trump, and are only beginning to wake up to the fear that they might have destroyed themselves.
Next come hi-tech firms, denied immigrant workers and also suffering from increasingly tight and restricted funding for science. The Republican war on science is already having a huge impact on forward technologies and the new economy.
Next will be the salaried middle class in general, but they have more cushion and more protections.
No one will benefit, except Big Oil and other primary-production interests that serve the paleoeconomy.
My colleague Eric Schwitzgebel (2017) has done a logical analysis of the problems of being factual and unbiased in today’s world. Briefly, he points out that when a dominant party does little beyond lying, and the media call the party on it, a more and more adversarial relationship develops, leading to claims of media bias and sometimes to very real media bias. It is hard to deal with a world in which one party has a monopoly of facts and the other lies constantly.
Schwitzgebel, Eric. 2017. “The Vicious Cycle that Leads to the End of Democracy.” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 29, A18.