David Niewart traces the history of America’s flirtation with fascism and Donald Trump’s cuddling up to it.
…Fascistic elements and tendencies have always been part of America’s DNA. Indeed, it can be said that some of the worst traits of fascism in Europe were borrowed from their American exemplars – particularly the eliminationist tendencies, manifested first in the form of racial and ethnic segregation, and ultimately in genocidal violence.
Hitler acknowledged at various times his admiration for the American genocide against Native Americans, as well as the segregationist policies of the Jim Crow regime in the South (on which the Nuremberg Race Lawswere modeled) and the threat of the lynch mob embodied in the Ku Klux Klan. According to Ernst Hanfstaengl, Hitler was “passionately interested in the Ku Klux Klan. … He seemed to think it was a political movement similar to his own.” And indeed it was.
Despite the long-running presence of these elements, though, America has never yet given way to fascism. No doubt some of this, in the past half-century at least, was primarily fueled by the natural human recoil that occurred when we got to witness the end result of these tendencies when given the chance to rule by someone like Hitler – namely, the Holocaust. We learned to be appalled by racial and ethnic hatred, by segregation and eliminationism, because we saw the pile of corpses that they produced, and fled in terror.
Those of us who study fascism not just as a historical phenomenon, but as a living and breathing phenomenon that has always previously maintained a kind of half-life on the fringes of the American right, have come to understand that it is both a complex and a simple phenomenon: in one sense, it resembles a dynamic human psychological pathology in that it’s comprised of a complex constellation of traits that are interconnected and whose presence and importance rise and fall according to the stages of development it goes through; and in another, it can in many ways be boiled down to the raw, almost feral imposition of the organized violent will of an angry and fear-ridden human id upon the rest of humankind.
That’s where Donald Trump comes in.
In many ways, Trump’s fascistic-seeming presidential campaign fills in many of the components of that complex constellation of traits that comprises real fascism. Perhaps the most significant of these is the one component that has been utterly missing previously in American forms of fascism: the charismatic leader around whom the fascist troops can rally, the one who voices their frustrations and garners followers like flies.
Scholars of fascist politics have remarked previously that America has been fortunate for most of its history not to have had such a figure rise out of the ranks of their fascist movements. And in the case of Donald Trump, that remains true – he has no background or history as a white supremacist or proto-fascist, nor does he actually express their ideologies.
Rather, what he is doing is mustering the latent fascist tendencies in American politics – some of it overtly white supremacist, while the majority of it is the structural racism and white privilege that springs from the nation’s extensive white-supremacist historical foundations – on his own behalf. He is merrily leading us down the path towards a fascist state even without being himself an overt fascist.
The reality that Trump is not a bona fide fascist himself does not make him any less dangerous. In some ways, it makes him more so, because it disguises the swastika looming in the shadow of the flamboyant orange hair. It camouflages the throng of ravening wolves he’s riding in upon.
Read the whole article. Then stop telling yourself that even if Mr. Trump doesn’t get the Republican nomination that he or his beliefs and tactics will go away. They are a part of us and always will be.