War, Trade, Law: The Next Stage of Fascism is Beginning

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Ami du Radical returns with some real words of warning and a sobering analysis on the current context; from trade war to actual war.

June of 2018 marks the 18th month of both the Trump administration and the realization of a modern neo-fascist movement in the United States. As popular mobilization against the government has gradually combined into the outline of a mass liberatory movement, fascism has rapidly evolved away from haphazard street violence and towards an institutionalized model of anti-left authoritarianism.

With the revelation that the government has already implemented an ethnic cleansing program complete with concentration camps came a surge of public outrage, but also the solidification of a fascist voter bloc inured to the suffering of others. This key component of fascism – absolute loyalty to the leader and a rejection of universal civil rights – has arrived at the same time as two other components, namely, a corrupt judicial system and the curtailing of political freedoms. Taken as a whole, the last month of news confirms that the birthing phase of fascism has passed, and its next stage of growth is beginning. We are fortunate that so many of us have recognized the threat early, and that so many brave and compassionate people have thrown themselves into the fray, undertaking the Herculean labor of building a nationwide base of resistance from the ground up. Nonetheless, it is time to grapple with the reality that we stand at the precipice of a particularly dark chapter in history, here and around the globe, and clearly reassess the state of fascism in America. This essay will unpack the political alchemy currently taking place which may well give rise to a profoundly perverse moment of violence, inhumanity, and conflict.

CONSERVATIVES HAVE EMBRACED THE POLITICS OF CRUELTY

On June 30th, approximately 700 sister-marches protested the policy of child separation implemented by the government. At present, over 2000 children are still in legal limbo, while the Pentagon has been advised to prepare for the extended detention of some 12,000 migrants [1]. The zero-tolerance stance of the government has enabled ICE to grow exponentially in size and scope, expanding the authority of the agency to frightening levels. Early in 2017, reports emerged of plainclothes agents sneaking into our communities, waiting outside traffic courts and elementary schools to ambush migrant parents who had been in America as long as 20 years on expired visas. In January, border agents were filmed destroying water jugs left at waypoints in the southern desert, ruthlessly jeopardizing the lives of migrants for the sake of “deterrence” [2].

But probably nobody was prepared for the announcement that the government had, just a year and a half after Trump’s election, already constructed and filled state-run concentration camps with children stolen from their parents as punishment for crossing the border. The nightmarish stories and photos spoke for themselves. Children were found locked in cages in the hollowed-out remains of a Wal-Mart, wrapped in blankets on the floor. As part of their internment, they’re made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. The recording of children sobbing helplessly for their parents became public knowledge, later used by DSA members to rightfully shame DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for her complicity in this horror. And yet it was only days later that the conservative bloc began to sincerely defend and justify the implementation of a policy synonymous with Naziism.

This is a critical moment that was, perhaps, inevitable, but is no less frightening to witness. The president, through his gladiatorial appeals to white anxiety and anti-left resentment, has engineered a voter base that finds political and spiritual catharsis in deliberately cruel behavior. Various polls indicated that the president’s approval rating didn’t even budge following the announcement of the child camps’ existence [3]. And why would it? This is, after all, what conservatives wanted from a Trump presidency, a desire expressed in everything from his border wall to the Muslim ban. But the decision to double-down when faced with a naked, no-shit government program of ethnic cleansing is an ethical point of no return for conservative America. It occupies the same bubble of anti-human ideas as the killing of enemy combatant’s families, the execution of drug dealers, and the stripping of citizenship from anyone who burns an American flag in protest.

A key feature of fascism is the embracing of cruelty as a virtue, “a disdain for human rights,” as theorists call it. As Mussolini wrote in his original manifesto, “The Fascist State expresses the will to exercise power and to command. Here the Roman tradition is embodied in a conception of strength. Imperial power, as understood by the Fascist doctrine, is not only territorial, or military, or commercial; it is also spiritual and ethical.” Under fascist ideology, cruelty is the rejection of inner weakness, while conquest and malice are signs of virility and worthiness. This sentiment is rife within the neo-fascist movement and conservatism as a whole. It’s visible in the rejection of so-called “political correctness,” which in actuality is a rejection of empathy, a condemnation of the “weakness” in any person who is concerned for the emotional wellbeing of others. Fascism considers willfully offensive behavior to be a demonstration of dominance, and actively encourages the degradation, humiliation, and punishment of other humans, or even of nature itself. This is why xenophobia, misogyny, violent outbursts, science denial, and racial bigotry have become desirable character traits among conservatives, both in themselves and their leaders.

In this same vein, the politics of white nationalism have been openly accepted by the American right. Trump has spun the news of child separation into paranoid fantasies that play to the fearful bigotry of his constituents; speaking just days after the child-camps became public knowledge, he alleged that child immigrants were actually being used as cover for members of MS-13 to gain asylum. “They’re sending not their finest,” he said. “Does that sound familiar? Remember I made that speech and I was so badly criticized? Turned out I was 100 percent right. That’s why I got elected.” [4]

In recent months, conservatives have elevated Arthur Jones, a neo-Nazi and holocaust denier, to the November ballot in Illinois, as well as Corey Stewart in Virginia, a neo-Confederate who has associated with Jason Kessler and Paul Nehlen. Steve King of Iowa, who has repeatedly amplified and repeated the messages of neo-Nazis in social media and advanced the rhetoric of white nationalism, remains entirely unmolested by the GOP leadership. North Carolina’s Russell Walker, winner of his primary race, claims that god himself is a white supremacist. Although each group denies it, every sector of conservatism includes a strong preference for a shared history and culture in which white society is responsible for all major human advances, and blameless for every atrocity committed along the way. Moreover, the core of conservatism is a demand that the oppressed allow themselves to be neglected, so as not to alter the dynamics of a four-century old colonial society they believe is their property alone.

When this disdain for humanity, refusal of equality, and racially vindictive attitude comes to a boil, fascism becomes the bloodthirsty engine of destruction that systematically snuffed out six million lives in Germany, and still more in Italy. The glimmers of this utter hatred for human life are visible in the government’s response to Puerto Rico’s staggering death toll, and to the recent massacre in Gaza, neither of which weighs on the conservative bloc’s conscience even one ounce. With three atrocities to its name in just two years, the neo-fascist movement has successfully normalized human expendability in the minds of millions of right-wingers. This is to say nothing of the wave of white supremacist violence ushered in by Trump’s election and the efforts of blackshirt organizations in every state.

What makes this all the more terrifying is the knowledge that Trump’s voter bloc is so viciously loyal that they have forfeited the ability to question him. Any lie that serves the American civic religion is accepted as fact and doggedly defended from critique, especially if it paints their political enemies as the “true evil.” Trump has falsely claimed that ICE has “liberated” towns in America from MS-13’s control, a fabrication that is bafflingly easy to disprove, yet one taken as fact by a large portion of the country. Despite obvious evidence to the contrary, conservatives are willing to accept Trump’s allegation that the Democrats instituted the zero-tolerance policy that he championed during his presidential campaign, and personally instituted when in office [5]. This is a man who could invent any policy, no matter how grotesque, and make any claim, no matter how contradictory or factually untrue, and still retain the number of votes that won him the presidency. More dangerously, that loyalty is an instrument of his will, with which he can shape national politics by proxy. In multiple primary races around the country, Republican candidates who had been critical of Trump to any degree whatsoever were defeated after Trump accused them of disloyalty [6]. It’s not just that Trump can say and do whatever he likes; that invulnerability is also rewarded to anybody who demonstrates absolute public obedience to him, personally, and the conservative bloc has learned that lesson remarkably quickly.

This is an administrative environment in which brutality is rewarded over empathy, personal loyalty is the only measure of one’s qualifications, fact and truth are so fluid as to be meaningless, and the spectacle of racial hatred is the primary tool of unification. There is no limit to the depravity that could be borne out by such poisonous conditions.

A ONE-PARTY SYSTEM IN A TWO-PARTY NATION

The Trump administration is almost comically corrupt. In addition to his troubles with the FBI, the list of this administration’s conflicts of interest stretched from Rex Tillerson’s oil fortune, to recently-departed Scott Pruitt’s amazing rap sheet of scandals and insider dealing, all the way to Trump’s own children, who have significantly enriched themselves during his presidency [7]. The triangle between Michael Cohen, Sean Hannity, and Donald Trump is a less competent, more sniveling version of Godfather politics, analogous to basically every other legal problem the president has ever had. But now, instead of running chickenwire casinos on shady financing, Trump is running the world’s most powerful and destructive state. Worse, he’s caught the nation during a time of economic decline and waning geopolitical influence, the incubation chamber of authoritarian politics.

His government is, seemingly, comprised of roughly 15 to 30 yes-men who use cloak-and-dagger tactics to enforce his decrees. He has refused to be held accountable in even the smallest matters, and bungles simplistic functions of government on a daily basis. Yet this Hindenburg of an administration remains afloat due to one factor alone: when Trump came to power, the GOP secured control of the House, Senate, and Supreme Court as well. Even the most useless official can achieve broken-clock successes when they have maximal control of the state. Rather than a consensus-builder, Trump is a kneecapper of competitors.

The Trump administration has poured its resources into weakening, dismantling, circumventing, or eliminating the legal barriers which, to however small an extent, have limited the president’s power in past administrations. He has turned the Mueller investigation into an extended attack on the FBI and the Department of Justice, gradually inciting conservatives to view the intelligence community as a den of conspirators – quite a feat in itself. He has delegitimized the media to cast doubt on any information that might damage his image, truthful or not, and stacked every government agency with his cronies so as to smoothen his interactions with state machinery.

It is Trump’s incredible laziness that has compelled him to find ways of eliminating dissent, avoiding discussions and hearings, and skipping over the tediousness of parliamentary procedure. His favorite tool is the executive order; it requires minimal effort and patience, and would require a two-thirds majority to overrule which, in this administration, will never occur. But in his efforts to simplify his job, Trump has accidentally managed something remarkable; he has built a one-party system inside a two-party system.

The epitomization of this concentration of power lies with the Supreme Court. The GOP forestalled the replacement of Justice Scalia long enough to secure power, then altered the Senate rules to quickly cram Gorsuch into the vacancy, all with the blessing of the president; one branch conspired with another branch to fundamentally change the third. Now, the government has scored a second seat, meaning that by the end of July, the conservative bloc will have smothered decades of civil rights gains, and paved the way for a generation of case decisions rubber-stamped to their specifications. This is a crushing level of power to wield, and the GOP did it by following Trump’s lead, abandoning their decades-long masquerade as a party of rigid devotion to constitutional standards. The Democrats, duped and outplayed for the billionth time, have no real power in the Capital. In the span of a short week, the Supreme Court has handed down decisions that codified anti-LGBTQ hatred under the guise of “religious freedom,” upheld the Muslim band, and eviscerated public unions in the aftermath of successful teachers’ strikes. This ticks three more essential boxes on the fascist agenda: the conjoining of religion and law, the legalized scapegoating of minorities, and the demolition of organized labor. In the near future, the GOP is aiming for the elimination of affirmative action, and potentially a reversal of decisions on abortion and same-sex marriage.

This is the kind of behavior Trump has publicly envied in other national leaders. Trump has frequently congratulated, complimented, and lauded the successes of tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. Without the political acumen or cleverness to actually pull it off himself, Trump is left to make pitifully transparent asides about the “respect” and “admiration” shown to these strongmen leaders. However, his commentary on their methods still helps to normalize the idea of authoritarian rule among his supporters, who were already hungry for unilateral destruction of their sociopolitical boogeymen. Just like with his opinions on trade, the media, and alliances with NAFTA or NATO nations, conservatives have shifted their opinions to match their leader’s own; more Republican voters now hold a positive opinion of Putin than in 2016, and fewer consider Russia to be a threat to America – this, from the voter bloc that drooled over Reagan’s Cold War antics [8]. Their thirst for social vengeance leads them to see, in dictators around the world, the kind of iron-fisted rule they envision for America. Some of the most virulent pro-Trump fascists in America are still wearing t-shirts referencing Pinochet, amusing themselves with the idea of forming death squads of their own.

Real autocracy is still out of Trump’s reach, but the GOP’s shell game with the Supreme Court has certainly given him a potent weapon against his enemies. Now, rather than passing bills, Trump can effectively shape the laws of the nation by simply funneling as many civil rights cases as possible up the judicial ladder, feeding them through the conservative-run Supreme Court like pine board through a wood chipper. Decisions can be hammered out to suit rightist ideology, punishing both marginalized people and political radicals alike, potentially cutting off many avenues of resistance currently available to us. Trump can sit back and allow Jeff Sessions to pick up any case that suits their purposes – campus free speech disputes, asylum laws, protections for protesters, anti-suppression laws for voters – and secure a new legal precedent that reflects the GOP’s draconian social views. With no opposition party to struggle against, a government full of obsequious toadies behind him, and this level of autocratic power at his command, even a flaccid dope like Donald Trump could construct a terrifyingly oppressive regime. It will be nothing like the openly despotic and carefully calculated behavior of Putin, but it will nonetheless have devastating consequences for us all.

It’s important to remember that neither Mussolini nor Hitler formed particularly “popular” national parties, nor even won a single popular vote. Rather, in both instances, fascism grew out of a combination of mass cronyism, extreme corruption, support from the capitalist class, and the collaboration of police with far-right vigilante squads. One other element provided the ignition for fascism to arise; a weakened national economy, and capitalist fears of a socialist uprising.

FINANCIAL DISASTER IS ON THE WAY

As of July 7th, the US government has imposed heavy tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese exports to American shores [9]. In retaliation, China is ready to strike back with equally severe measures, cleverly targeting products from Republican-held states, such as Iowan soybeans and Kentucky bourbon. The Trump administration, unable to back down for fear of looking weak, is now threatening to impose eventual tariffs totalling $500 billion. China is expected to match this pugilistic behavior tit-for-tat. This is an apocalyptic level of economic damage, made worse by the squabbles Trump has picked with Canada, Mexico, and the UK.

This strategy, if it can even be called that, will eventually result in catastrophe for America. The other nations of the global capitalist hegemony can trade amongst themselves to offset the damage, and will likely find ways to strengthen their economic bonds in the immediate future. America, however, will be isolated and suffer a drop in revenue that, as always, will weigh heaviest on the working poor. Meanwhile, the government is relaxing banking regulations installed after the 2008 collapse, and has implemented a tax plan that concentrated more wealth in the hands of the elite at the expense of the workers. The stock market, which has risen since 2009, is now being roiled by the oncoming trade war and is primarily being driven by corporations buying back their own shares; buybacks this quarter totalled $434 billion, nearly doubling the previous record [10].

Our financial security is bleak. Wages are stagnant, corporate mergers have produced a network of monopolies that control or profit from most of our daily transactions, and collectively, the workers of America have almost as little stability as they did in the years preceding the Great Depression. Inequality has reached a historic high water mark. When the economic blow from the trade war connects with America, there is no telling how disastrous the result will be – for us, of course, not for the aristocracy. And contrary to assumptions of accelerationism, there is no guarantee that when we suffer another free market bust, the desperate masses will rush to support leftism. There is just as much chance that, like in Italy and Germany, economic strife could convince moderates to make peace with the fascist cause rather than abandon capitalism.

Exacerbating the threat of this economic instability is exactly the crisis the government attempted to preempt with zero-tolerance border policies. Across the globe, imperialist capitalist nations have wrought destruction through conquest, exploitation, and environmental havoc. This, in turn, has resulted in a mass migration of people fleeing tyrannical governments and ecological nightmares alike, comprised of people who have no choice but to flee to more stable environments, namely, the very nations who have profited from this global piracy. In all, there are an estimated 200 million human lives at risk [11]. The rise of fascism throughout Western civilization is, ultimately, a case of karmic realignment; the governments and proprietors who have plundered the world are facing popular uprisings on a daily basis, from citizens who would rather throw open the borders than cower like rats on a sinking ship. Nationalists have embraced fascism as a way to blame these ills on immigrants, refugees, and enemy nations, and to justify shutting their borders and leaving these wayward peoples to die unseen, all to preserve the privilege and comfort of their own short lives.

Collapse is almost a certainty, given the nature of the forces inherent to capitalism, the recklessness of the American state, and the instability of the planet itself. The extent of the damage cannot be predicted at this time, but a scenario similar to the housing collapse isn’t out of the question. When that moment arrives, it will be the catalyst of either increased fascist mobilization, a flourishing of the mass movement, or possibly both. But we have already seen the outcome if American hypernationalism fills the void of stability; forced labor camps for the outsider, political repression for the radical, and death for those targeted by state violence or blackshirt vigilantes.

WE ARE MANY, THEY ARE FEW

Grim though they may be, the elements of fascism listed above are not a historic certainty, nor are they impossible to overcome. As we have seen throughout the last two years, there is no lack of courage, compassion, and ingenuity in the workers of America. We have been taught religiously that we are incapable of change except through the gatekeepers of representative democracy and capitalism, and that we require both a rigid hierarchy and the violence of the state to keep us from devolving into chaotic beasts. Yet while brave souls reach out to migrants, feed the hungry, advocate for the oppressed, and fight back against fascist thugs, it is the government that indulges in paranoia, cowardice, deception, inaction, and uncouth violence. The aristocracy have become a rat king of feckless, self-serving bastards who hoard unbelievable wealth, insist on imhuman levels of privilege, and protect themselves through the most base means imaginable. It is the public that holds the power, builds the movement, and reimagines the world as a better, more equal place.

The occupation of numerous ICE offices in America is just one example of the mass movement becoming more coherent, deliberate, and tenacious. Repeated police actions haven’t dampened the spirits of the occupiers, nor ended their struggle. However, we should remember that when the government steps up its oppressive behavior, when disaster soon galvanizes the blackshirts yet again, millions of people outside of the American antifascist and anarchist cause will suffer the consequences. It will not be political leanings or group affiliation that defends the people against repression, but a shared sense of humanity. Ultimately, electoral politics remains unlikely to avert the coming storm; the Democratic party, even if it nominally accepts socialist influences, will always bend in service of capitalism and, therefore, fascism. But outside of state machinery, there is a burgeoning movement that strives for the liberation of all people, without reservation. It includes the fight for refugees and immigrants, for the autonomy of women, for the equality of all sexualities and genders, for indigenous self-governance, for stewardship of the planet, and an end to artificial social dividers of classes, borders, owners, and rulers.

We should take heart knowing that for every inch of ground fascism has gained so far, liberationists have taken one as well. The abolition of ICE, police, and prisons are gaining traction as legitimate political ideals. White supremacy and its violent tendencies are being confronted on the microcosmic level, as well as the macrocosmic. Not everyone is willing to submit to the continuation of capitalism, and some are willing to openly declare their opposition to it. There is a groundswell of energy that has not yet fully blossomed, but is beginning to push its way out of the dirt and through the cracked husk of this indefensible empire we call America. Fascism has fallen before, and it will fall again. The question is what will take its place.

SOURCES

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/pentagon-is-asked-to-prepare-housing-for-12-000-migrants-1530203785
[2] https://theintercept.com/2018/01/17/u-s-border-patrol-systematically-destroyed-water-supplies-left-for-migrants-in-desert-report-says/
[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/25/trumps-popularity-unaffected-by-family-separation-policy.html
[4] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/6/19/17479542/family-separation-trump-mexico-rapists
[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/16/us/politics/trump-democrats-separation-policy.html
[6] https://www.vox.com/2018/6/13/17450200/trump-critics-republican-primary-lose
[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/01/trumps-appointees-conflicts-of-interest-a-crib-sheet/512711/#Tillerson
[8] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/1/30/16943786/trump-changed-public-opinion-russia-immigration-trade
[9] https://www.vox.com/world/2018/7/6/17542482/china-trump-trade-war-tariffs
[10] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/02/corporate-buybacks-are-the-only-thing-keeping-the-stock-market-afloat.html
[11] https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/29/family-separation-flashpoint-global-migrant-crisis


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