In the wake of Britain’s EU Referendum, it seems we have been asking the wrong kind of questions about Trump… and Clinton too.
With the recent shock vote for Great Britain to leave the EU, Trump exclaimed from the grand opening of his new Scottish golf-course that BREXIT was a “great thing“. Many are now questioning whether Thursday’s result will significantly increase the chances of Trump’s anti-establishment ideals. For example, CNN pondered whether the result would trigger…
… a cascade of events that could spark global economic chaos, remake the Western world, reverberate through November’s presidential election and challenge U.S. security for years to come.
Such an event means that comprehending what Trump actually stands for becomes tantamount to comprehending if the American ‘establishment’ are in for the same treatment in November. Naturally this has led to the current debate amongst the intellectual elite as to whether Donald Trump is a fascist – or at the very least, he has fascist tendencies. According to The Atlantic, The Telegraph and Forbes – he’s not. Salon, New Republic and George Clooney think he is. Most can agree that he is an unashamed populist, positioning himself as an anti-establishment messiah campaigning on a platform of economic protectionism and a critic of free trade deals (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the TPP/TTIP).
The question as to whether one is a fascist depends on one important element though – power. As the German-born political theorist Hannah Arendt once said,
Revolutionaries do not make revolutions. The revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and then they can pick it up.
So if Trump is the revolutionary he paints himself to be, it won’t be until after he becomes President of the United States (POTUS) that a proper assessment of his fascist tendencies can take place – anytime beforehand is hot air. Trump (and Bernie Sanders) know that the centre ground and traditional ‘Left-Right’ paradigms are crumbling within the United States. Just as people question how Bernie Sanders would be able to pay for the policies he puts forth, it’s also fair to question how Donald Trump would actually function within the confines of the American constitution. Trump talks as though he’s capable of ‘Making America Great Again’ in one fell swoop, but the reality is that the American constitution divides power equally amongst the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. Unlike the Westminster system which has some overlap between these varied powers, the separation of powers within the American system is very real and can often lead to legislative gridlock. Look no further than the frustration Congress has provided Obama on issues such as gun-control and climate change.
The American democratic system is fast becoming the most fractured it has been since the Civil War. Irrespective of who becomes the next President of the United States, the reality is they’ll be able to get very little done. Many on the Left (and also on the Right) think that a Trump presidency will be dangerous for both America and the world – and may ultimately lead to America falling from grace in one form or another. Hence many comedians jokingly saying that Trump will be the last POTUS. A more realistic scenario is his actions will not be able to meet his rhetoric. Far from being a threat to world peace, he’s more likely to be a lame-duck, one term president.
On the flip-side, many of the elements of fascism are already present in contemporary American society – in everything from the elements of ultra-nationalism, reverence of the armed forces, the high prison-rates, and the intertwining of religion and politics. Trump would merely be shining a mirror onto American society itself with his ascension to the throne. Maybe, just maybe, America already ticks many of the boxes of a fascist state and Trump is simply the last piece of the puzzle. According to the Black Panther rights activist George Jackson, fascism is more than just a nasty one-party dictatorship – it also takes into account a specific political economy. That is why Jackson argued that fascism’s most advanced form could be found in the U.S of A.
All political parties, as things stand, will support the power complex. Any individual elected will either be a supporter of the established politics — or an ‘individual.’ What would help us, in fact, is to allow as many right-wing elements as possible to assume ‘political’ power. …The fascists already have power. The point is that some way must be found to expose them and combat them.
A few days after publishing these words he was dead, killed in a shoot-out. He raised important questions about the American state though, predominantly that fascism shouldn’t be seen solely through the prism of ‘something that looks like Nazi Germany’. Fascism, as defined by George Jackson, is the complete control of the state by money capital. It is also the last stage of capitalism, and thus could only realistically take form within the US, the so-called ‘imperial centre’ of contemporary capitalism as we know it today. Although not a perfect synergy, this type of fascism is a relationship where the differences between the state and corporations become indiscernible. This can be observed in the current TPP and TTIP negotiations being led by the United States, which will likely further hurt their working and middles classes.
Fascism should therefore be seen as a political-economic system, not merely a political system that just had it’s brief time in the sun in the ’30’s. The privatisation of the public sector (look no further than the selling off of state’s water infrastructure), the systematic de-unionisation of the American work force (started ruthlessly by Reagan against the striking Air-Traffic Controllers in 1981) and stark austerity (again, look at the country’s water infrastructure, particularly the unfolding tragedy in Flint) show the power and influence the state has on behalf of big business.
Such anti-democratic and borderline fascist activity has successfully brought about the rapid decline of the political and economic conditions for the American working classes. And they’re pissed – cue the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. But only one of those mentioned truly fits the mould of the American political-economy model.
This may sound like an outlandish claim, but think about it. The rich have been getting richer (astronomically so) whilst the middle and working class are doing more and more for less and less pay. In many cases, the jobless underclass in America have given up after trying desperately for years since the crisis in 2008.
So in many respects (and many Sanders supporters may agree with this sentiment after feeling so aggrieved after the nomination race) the Left need to acknowledge that fascism is the system of rule – the current default – in the United States. The current and virulent bout of mass joblessness, imprisonment, poverty, and homelessness are the factors that eventually breed fear and competition amongst the diminishing working class of the U.S.
The paradox of fascism lies in its ability to sustain and grow in the midst of deteriorating conditions for the majority of the population
He also notes that the US mainstream media and education system provide the ideological chains of fascism. It goes without saying that the ‘Pledge of Allegiance‘ can be seen as a consistent form of brainwashing within the American education system – a daily ritual within the classroom inoculating the children to revere the state. In fact, the Bellamy salute that originally accompanied the pledge was changed because it too closely represented the Nazi salute. Awkward.
Through this light, Trump won’t be taking America down some dark, scary avenue of Orwellian corporatocracy – in many respects it’s already there. Trump will simply be the resin that glues all the disparate tinges of American fascism together into one carbon-copy red, white and blue Apparatchik. To quote Danny Haiphong once again,
Corporations like CNN and the New York Times habitually lie about the facts of political events to protect the white ruling class and its institutions from accountability. Corporate hip-hop, music, and television entertainment compliment corporate news syndicates by doping the mind full of mindless garbage. It matters little if the media of choice is watching “Scandal”, listening to Nicki Minaj on the radio, or reading the Washington Post. The boardrooms of five corporations are manufacturing consent to the US fascist system.
In many respects it’s practically irrelevant if Trump gets the top job or not. Within the last 48 hours, it has emerged that Clinton has raised over $42m for her campaign, whilst concurrent polling indicates that she is still deeply unpopular amongst the electorate (only beaten in unpopularity by Trump). The reason those two diametrically opposing situations are able to exist is that she has the full backing of corporate America. Look no further than her expensive speaking tours for investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, or her inability to stand up to the fossil-fuel lobby and place a moratorium on fracking.
The civil rights activist Martin L. King, Jr. saw where America was heading way back in 1967, and before his assassination wrote,
. . . more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society . . .and you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?’
There are forces at play within the American economy that illustrate that some of the basic fundamentals of fascism are already in place. Martin Luther King Jr. may have had a dream, but that reality has in many respects been replaced with a nightmare. A nightmare that indicates that Trump isn’t the fascist everybody says he is (yet), but rather he’s the product of an economic and political system that is broken. As is Clinton.
He is however, the last piece of the puzzle. In this respect he differs from Clinton. He now needs power to help congeal the increasingly fascist elements of the American political and economic class. His wish might come true on November the 8th.