Originally posted to It’s Going Down
by Alexander Reid Ross
On October 21, a former plumber from Connecticut named William Celli posted to his Facebook that he was delighted to see Donald Trump on TV, saying, “this guy[‘]s a great point man[.] I’ll follow this MAN to the end of the world.”
Celli is not simply enthused to follow leaders, but Trump is a point man, the guy to have up front calling the shots and making the decisions. He’s above all else a man, a patriarch who should be followed with the devotion of a kind of prophet—to the end of the world.
Just shy of two months later, on the same day that the New York Times released a report showing a tripling in violence against Muslims after the Paris and San Bernadino attacks, a neighbor telephoned in a tip to the Richmond, California, police about a bomb. After three days, the police finally responded, finding a small bomb-making enterprise on Celli’s premises plausibly made with the intent to attack the local Muslim community.
This kind of xenophobic and racist violence (and the threat of violence) has underwritten the Trump campaign like a bad check that was cut on the night that two brothers in Boston, Scott and Steve Leader, brutalized and urinated on a homeless Latino man in August. After the crime, Scott Leader declared, “Donald Trump was right; all these illegals need to be deported.”
In the midst of a quantifiable, if not palpable, increase in violence and white terrorism, Donald Trump has been the loudest spokesperson for the restriction of human rights against Muslims in the US. Is it therefore possible to connect Trump’s campaign to the increase in white supremacist violence, which has reached mass movement-level proportions?
What separates Trump and other populists from definitive fascism is, for some scholars, the problem that they do not appear to call for a national rebirth on the basis of an anti-democratic revolutionary movement. Aside from leftist pundits like Noam Chomsky calling Trump and the GOP a “radical insurgency,” however, there is more evidence that even the right wing is refusing to turn a blind eye to Trump’s revolutionary leanings.
Earlier this year, journalist Doug Schoen cast Trump as the leader of a new “conservative revolution” in a key article for Forbes. Schoen is not dreaming. In 2012, Trump audibly called for revolution via Twitter after Obama’s re-election. To get a sense of what “conservative revolutionaries” think of Trump today, a visit to paleo-conservative and white supremacist sites like Vdare and Alternative Right, among other neo-fascist sites, is instructive.
On Vdare, paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan states that Trump is a challenge to “the regime”: “the Trump constituency will represent a vote of no confidence in the Beltway ruling class of politicians and press.” Striking the revolutionary chord, Buchanan continues, “People are agitating for the overthrow of the old order and a new deal for America. For there is a palpable sense that the game is rigged against Middle America and for the benefit of insiders who grow rich and fat not by making things or building things, but by manipulating money.” Here, Buchanan distinguishes the producers from the parasites, ending the passage with a gesture to corporatist producerism, “Americans differentiate the wealth of a Henry Ford and a Bill Gates from that of the undeserving rich whose hedge fund fortunes can exceed the GDP of nations.”
So Buchanan states that Trumpism looks to a “new deal” for white america as an overthrow of the old order led by an entrepreneurial class, characterized by the vicious anti-Semite, Henry Ford, and his apparent successor, Bill Gates, who Trump says he will call on to “close that internet up.”
According to Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Mark Potok, Trump is similar to Buchanan in many ways: “There is no question we have not seen anything like this since Pat Buchanan. Those two have a lot in common. I am not sure if Trump views himself as a white nationalist, but he has white nationalist positions. When he calls Mexicans rapists and murderers, he is dog-whistling in a very clear way to this far-right constituency… In some ways Trump has taken an even more extreme position than many white nationalists. I have never heard of white nationalists call for the deportation of the U.S. citizens born to people who came here illegally.”
When Trump entered the presidential elections of 2000 under the guidance of Roger Stone, he would point the finger at Buchanan, ironically identifying his base as fused with fascists, perhaps not thinking that in just over a decade, he would be running an even more extreme campaign with an even more conspicuous fascist base and the support of Buchanan, himself.
When the SPLC draws parallels between Trump and Buchanan, and the conservative opinion is that Trump is a “conservative revolutionary,” claims of fascism start to seem more canny. The Stormfront crowd is certainly not afraid to cross over to Trump’s side. In fact, Stormfront has been forced to expand their servers in order to host the 30-40% increase in traffic related to Trump’s outbursts making it quite clear who the subject of Trump’s internet censorship would be. Responses generally range from “Hail Trump!” to claims that he may be a Gorbachev-type reformer who leads to the destruction of the union. Either way, the idea is that Trump is a step toward a white nationalist revolution—in other words, neither he is co-opting them, nor they are co-opting him, but the two are engaged in a hybrid movement or trend.
Complexity and Hybridization
In his recent article, Matthew Lyons provides incisive insight regarding Trumpism. At the outset, he notes that if observers accused Bernie Sanders of being a step toward full communism, most people would probably laugh. Similarly, Trump, he claims, is not fascist, but is interconnected to fascism through populist right wing politics.
Significantly, Lyons brings up David Neiwert’s article “Donald Trump May Not Be a Fascist, But He is Leading Us Merrily Down That Path,” in agreement with the soundness of its logic. Trump is “creating the conditions that could easily lead to a genuine and potentially irrevocable outbreak of fascism.” Then, Lyons remarks on my latest article, “Trumpism, pt. 3: Propaganda of the Deal,” rejecting the notion that Trumpism contains an “inherent tendency to move toward fascism.”
It seems a bit strange that Lyons agrees with Neiwert and then disagrees with me with regards to what are, at bottom, similar points. While Neiwert claims that Trump creates the conditions for fascism to emerge, my position is that Trumpism maintains “an important and necessary stage of fascism.” My perspective on Trump, to put it succinctly, is that he mobilizes a “conservatism with fascist trappings” to garner the popular support of Middle American Radicals, which brings him closer to the fascist “revolutionary” side than the conservative position advanced by someone like Jeb Bush.
Lyons notes that Trump may be courting white nationalists, and vice-versa, but his fascist bona fides are negated by the absence of both a stylized popular mobilizations in the fashion of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies and some kind of brownshirt or blackshirt paramilitary force. Yet fascists have emerged in the political scene without such qualities. The Italian Social Movement never really had a kind of mass movement that would hold a candle to Trump’s gigantic rallies. Nor did they have a paramilitary grouping. Yet they were unquestionably and avowedly the political continuation of Mussolini’s Republic of Salò. Closer to the mark, David Duke’s Populist Party never retained either a mass movement or a paramilitary force, and the party itself could even be characterized as “radical right” rather than explicitly fascist; however, both Duke and his handler, Willis Carto, were undeniably fascists.
Moreover, the notion of paramilitaries with armbands has been out of fashion among US fascists since William Pierce’s National Alliance, which advocated a militant clandestine resistance that fed into what would become known as “leaderless resistance,” as proposed by Texas Knights of the Klan leader Louis Beam. While Trump does not entertain a “brownshirt” following, he is a party to an influx of “lone wolf” or “leaderless resistance” attacks on Muslims, immigrants, and people of color in general, such as the recent roughing up of a protestor as an audience member shouted “sieg heil.” Trump finds himself in a two party system where the Republican Party maintains a platform (barely) closer to his own ideology, so he is radicalizing a party that has never needed Trump to create the conditions for fascism, as exhibited by the Tea Party in 2009. Trump is not simply creating the conditions for fascism, his coming to prominence amid the “birther” controversy would suggest that his campaign is actually a product of those conditions.
The Leader as Outsider
Part of what makes Trump “revolutionary” to conservatives is his outsider status. He’s a billionaire from New York City, and some of his politics lean toward liberalism. His previous presidential effort came under the Reform Party, and in 2012, he supported both the Republican and Democratic Parties financially. He is more of a leader in the syncretic sense of populism, bringing together different constituents by hybridizing their ideas. As scholar Constanin Iordachi writes, “in politics in particular, the fluid nature of ideologies, the dynamics of the political process, and the multiple social-political factors that generally shape the nature and outlook of political regimes generate hybrid outcomes.”
This is why, as opposed to Lyons’s premise that fascists “are absolutists who demand ideological purity,” Mussolini insisted into the 1920s that Fascism was a heretical and heterodox ideology priding itself on its inconsistencies and contradictions, which has carried over to the more recent “Anarchist Heretics Fair” put on by National Anarchist Troy Southgate. Despite his radical and revolutionary background, Mussolini presented himself as a sincere parliamentarian who wanted to “return to the constitution” in the early 1920s, allowing even the prime minister Luigi Facta to believe Fascism might be controlled through the political process. Only years later, beginning in roughly 1927, and forming through the vast programmatic transformations that took place up to 1935, would Fascism actually harden into a totalitarian ideological “orthodoxy.” This is largely because ideological fluidity is crucial to fascist leadership, as the fascist leader navigates “popular tides and currents” while plotting the course to the destination of a totalitarian “new state.”
“Although people often use the term fascism interchangeably with dictatorship,” Lyons writes, “most dictatorships aren’t fascist, because they’re all about preserving the old order rather than creating a new one, and they generally don’t involve any real populist mobilization.” Yet, as António Costa Pinto and Aristotle Kallis note, the line between dictatorship and fascism must be rethought: “the historiography of fascism and inter-war dictatorship needs to look beyond previously assumed conceptual dichotomies and accept the challenge of embracing complexity.” For instance, Lyons claims that the fascists of the Legion of the Archangel Michael were “co-opted into” the Antonescu regime of Romania in 1940, implying that the Legion was a submissive part of what was essentially a “conservative authoritarian” system. The reality of compromise is more complex, Iordachi argues.
The Legion, also known as the Iron Guard, had always had an “outsider” relationship with the Romanian state. When Antonescu’s military establishment overthrew the King and invited the Iron Guard to form a National-Legionary State, the groups manifested a different model of power sharing as part of a “fluid” process of inheritance and continuity. In fact, it was the Legion’s leader Horia Sima’s refusal to submit to Antonescu’s similar doctrine that resulted in the purging of the Iron Legion and return to a simple, “conservative authoritarian” state.
The complex hybridizations between conservative dictatorship and fascist regimes must be examined closely to find the grey areas in which neither descriptions function to precisely define the terms on their own. Similarly, with Trump’s campaign, the fascist connections that Lyons points out are actually vital to understanding the general character. Otherwise a vague argument of one side overdetermining the other tends to dominate without an eye to clear and consistent movement building.
The “Old Order”
The tricky thing about Trump’s hybridization is that, as Buchanan declares, his platform explicitly seeks an “overthrow” of the “old order” and preservation of the traditions that he views as smoldering within the dying embers of the white American spirit. The “old order” for Mussolini was embodied by prime minister Giolitti, and really less than 30 years “old.” Although Mussolini did link Giolitti to the older tradition of liberalism, he harkened back to the leadership of Mazzini and the continuation of the Resurgimiento, which had only officially ended fifty years before Mussolini took power.
For Hitler, the “old order” was Weimar Germany, which was not even 15 years “old” when Hitler took power. Instead, Hitler looked to the Kaiser system established by Bismarck and Wilhelm I less than 50 years before he transformed the German Workers Party in the Nazi Party, although his greatest idol was Frederick the Great who lived during the 18th Century, 150 years before Hitler effectively created the Nazi Party.
Similarly, one could argue that Trump’s “old order” is that of Civil Rights, stretching back roughly fifty years ago to the reforms of the Johnson and Nixon eras. Unlike the right wing populist George Wallace, who wanted to maintain the status quo, Trump uses the same ideological tilt of “energy” as classic Fascism in his rejection of the “political functionaries” of the “old order,” claiming that black people and women lack the same kind of energy that Trumpism provides.
However, Trump’s desire to “make America great again” also hinges on the elimination or at least circumvention of the 14th Amendment, which finally acknowledged equal rights for all US citizens after the Civil War in 1868, roughly 150 years ago. Trump’s vision of national renewal, then, returns to the traditions of the unreconstructed South that purportedly ended in the 1960s and 1970s is this kind of “dog whistle” to the Klan and fascist groups that have always upheld segregation and a racialized caste system as an ultimate ideal.
When is a Revolution a Counter-Revolution?
Aside from openly calling for revolution on at least one occasion, Trump’s attempts to use the electoral process as a tool to overthrow the present establishment of “career politicians” and institute a rebirth and renewal of national greatness is typical of fascist politics.
Pierre Taittinger, the leader of the inter-war French fascist group Jeunesses Patriotes (Young Patriots), put the platform squarely in 1926: “It is not the right to vote that is killing our country, it is the fact that good people are not making use of it. The vote is an imperfect arm, but it is an arm. We concede nothing to our adversaries, either in the streets or at the ballot box.”
Similar sentiments were proclaimed by Mussolini up to 1925, and Nazi propaganda up to 1933. Furthermore, these groups did not openly declare totalitarian intent from the start. They hedged in order to retain support from both conservative and liberal (parliamentarian conservative) sources.
This is, of course, a long-standing tradition, which is why successors to the Nazis and Fascist Party—the Socialist Reichsparty, the Italian Social Movement, and of course the US’s Populist Party—all cast their lot with elections. None of these parties had a particularly impressive “mass movement”—at least not coming close to the size of Trump’s campaign. Nor have they proven particularly revolutionary. When David Duke won a seat in the Louisiana State Senate, he did not call for “revolution,” but took gradualist steps to make life much harder for non-whites. Although nobody doubts that Duke is a fascist, he ran a right wing populist campaign; the two are commensurate, and in fact the latter too often provides cover for the former as a hybridized position of fascist creep. Creating a sharp distinction ignores the pesky details.
So the question of whether or not Trump and his violent mass movement is fascist often hinges on the regrettable terms of “revolution.” Part of the dubious nature of the term “revolution” is that the actual outcome of fascist authority was incredibly conservative in terms of labor and social welfare. Taxes on businesses were lowered, wages depressed, the length of the work day increased, food consumption declined, infant mortality rose, and at least until 1935, big businesses had relatively free reign over the economy. For all the rhetoric about syndicalism and socialism, the social wage was slashed, and a conservative emphasis on work and patriarchy ruled.
It is easy to overemphasize the “revolutionary” or even “leftist” elements of fascism in search of an ideal type based on a mixture of ideological doctrines and observable totalitarian outcomes, while accidentally placing ideology and doctrine before the real process. Still, Trump is in favor of unions in managements’ pockets, says he’ll tax the rich, runs a modernist corporation, and his campaign circulates around his virility and power—characteristics that run against the grain of traditional conservatism and in parallel with more fascist-type leader complexes.
Totalitarian Social Engineering
As for totalitarian social engineering projects, how could the halting of Muslim immigration and deportation of 11 million people on the basis of their immigration status and country of origin (they likely won’t be deporting Irish people behind on their visas) be perceived as anything but one of the most totalitarian schemes of social engineering? The only stage beyond mass deportation is genocide, plain and simple. How does Trump intend to locate 11 million undocumented people? Does he hope to bring SB-1070, the notorious “papers please” law sponsored in the Arizona state legislature by Russell Pearce, a man who once sent a white nationalist National Vanguard article about Jewish control over media to his constituents? House to house raids from coast to coast like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, who has managed to weather federal investigations without appearing to alter his strategy?
Beyond the total violation of human rights required to locate 11 million undocumented people, one does not simply deport 11 million people without sophisticated infrastructure and agency coordination. Airplanes? Buses? Trains? Cattle cars? Whoever could imagine such a horrific enterprise, its immense amount of sophisticated and banal planning, would also employ new human and developmental resources that would not simply dissipate into thin air once the task is accomplished. The very act of the mass deportation would produce a kind of collaborative infrastructure and police effort that would require totalitarian integration.
This is not to say that the US is not an enormous project of social engineering, because that’s what colonies are. What would distinguish mass deportation in the US today from, say, the Trail of Tears, internal colonization, and the Japanese internment camps would likely simply be a new internal process of militarized bureaucracy adding to the weight and capacity of state repression. Yet given the fact that the US’s internal colonization process helped inspire Hitler’s totalitarian project in the first place, and that Trump’s desire for the restoration of a former glory by overthrowing the “political operatives” and establishing an essentially “new” order (in the words of Buchanan), complexities begin to arise.
Ordinarily, mass deportation is accompanied by acts of state violence against those who remain associated with the “gangrene” or “disability” keeping greatness and virility from truly manifesting. There is always auxiliary repression of activists and advocacy organizations attempting to halt the separation of families and the tearing apart of communities. Deportations are also generally accompanied by unofficially sanctioned vigilante or paramilitary violence against both targeted populations and those connected to them. As an example, the National Socialist Movement activist JT Ready remained quite close to the former president of Arizona’s State Senate and sponsor of SB-1070, Russell Pearce, who he called his “father figure.” Yet SB-1070 did not drastically increase deportations, it just dramatically increased the ratio of deportations of those who were caught for non-criminal offenses. In short, it was simply a measure of terror against a population used to tear law abiding mothers away from their children during routine traffic stops. Even SB-1070 is, then, watered down compared to what Trump is proposing.
Is it not illustrative that Trump’s deportation plan was actually developed by a white nationalist Tanton Network, before he got around to integrating it into his platform? Is it not suggestive that white nationalist Richard Spencer calls it “peaceful ethnic cleansing“? This is, at best, the grey area where interconnection to the fascist movement through the radical right becomes more like hybridization.
Missing the Tree for the Forest
Lyons accurately states, “even if we assume that Trump wants to outlaw elections, shred the Bill of Rights, and make himself president for life, that doesn’t make him a fascist.” Yet if we acknowledge that Trump explicitly called for a conservative revolution, leads a violently racist and anti-leftist mass-movement to roll back Civil Rights, uses white nationalist policy positions, enlisted Roy Cohn and Roger Stone as lawyer and consultant, respectively, and kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside, perhaps it becomes more necessary to acknowledge the complexity and hybridity discussed by Costa Pinto, Kallis, and Iordachi.
So the claim, in the final analysis, that Trump’s campaign is interconnected to fascism, but that Trump, himself, can remain pure and clearly describable as “not fascist” seems inconsistent. To detach the proximity between Trumpism and people like the Leader brothers or Celli so cleanly seems like an error. And that’s the main point: the radical right is not as simple as a cluster of autonomous ideologies perfectly honed and starkly differentiated. Those autonomies do exist, but there is more grey area within something like a consolidated mass movement, which is given direction and form by a leader.
So while it’s convenient to place the viewable field under the grouping of “interlinked” but distinct ideologies of the radical right, when neo-fascist roots start to show, too often the vagueness of the “radical right” obscures the particularities being faced, and occludes more precise understandings. In effect, a particular species of tree (fascism) is labelled a forest (radical right populism). Although Trumpism may be more comparable to “conservatism with fascist trappings,” he remains a kind of “outsider” to the conservative movement. The presence of palingenetic ultranationalism characterized as “revolutionary” by conservatives, as well as a genealogy of connections to the Americanism of Cohn and Stone, indicate that the more Trump’s hateful ideology spreads, the more what are considered fascist trappings today will become generalized and hegemonic in a new political era.