Fascism/ˈfæʃɪzəm/ is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism. . . . Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete, and they regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties. Such a state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party—to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society. Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature, and views political violence, war, and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Fascists advocate a mixed economy, with the principal goal of achieving autarky through protectionist and interventionist economic policies. (Wikipedia)
In “Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt writes:
Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered with corruption … The modern masses do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience … What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.
According to Arendt, the “chief disability” of authoritarian propaganda is that “it cannot fulfill this longing of the masses for a completely consistent, comprehensible, and predictable world without seriously conflicting with common sense.”
The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.(Jason Stanley in the NYT)
Trumpism does not seek simply to make a point and pass on its genes to more politically palatable heirs, nor is it readily apparent why he would need to settle for this. When George Will announced his departure from the G.O.P., last summer, he offered a modified version of Ronald Reagan’s quote about leaving the Democrats—“I didn’t leave the Party; the Party left me.” But a kind of converse narrative applies to Trump; he didn’t join the Republican Party so much as its most febrile elements joined him. Trump is partly a product of forces that the G.O.P. created by pandering to a base whose dilated pupils the Party mistook for gullibility, not abject, irrational fear that would send those voters scurrying to the nearest authoritarian savior they could find. The error was in thinking that this populace, mainlining Glenn Beck and Alex Jones theories and pondering how the Minutemen would have fought Sharia law, could be controlled. (For evidence to the contrary, the Party needed look no further than the premature political demise of Eric Cantor.) The old adage warns that one should beware of puppets that begin pulling their own strings. (Jelani Cobb)
It's three days until the election, and I am assuming that Donald Trump will lose. But even if he does, it is hard to see how the GOP doesn't continue its thirty-five year movement toward the hard right. In my post last week "Realigning the Colors", I argued that the Democratic Party--the Blues--while it may continue to do so rhetorically, no longer structurally represents the interests of ordinary working Americans. I think this is obvious to anybody who is paying attention to party politics in this country, but if you need a fuller development of the argument to support this contention, you can read Tom Frank's Listen, Liberal. The Democratic Party at its core has become the party of Neoliberal cosmopolitan elites--dominated by professionals and the managerial class. They are liberals on cultural issues, and classic market liberals on economic issues.They are as such deeply out of touch with the interests and values of ordinary, i.e., non-elite, working Americans.
Despite Republicans doing nothing to serve Black interests during the post-Reconstruction period, most Blacks remained Republicans out of habit until the Dems gave them a reason to switch in the mid 1960s. Until then they had no where else to go, and the GOP was, at least, the Party of the Great Emancipator. In the same way many black, brown, and white Progressives remain Democrats now because they think of it as the Party of FDR, the Kennedys, and LBJ. It no longer is; it has become the Party of Neoliberal cosmopolitan elites--of professionals, of business elites, of knowledge workers who live mostly on the coasts and in the bigger cities and university towns. Real Progressives remain Democrats out of habit because they have no where else to go.
Many of these economic elites lean Libertarian, and have in the past voted Republican, but this election cycle is pushing many of them to vote Blue. I think that trend will continue as it becomes clearer that the GOP continues to become the party of populist rage, a rage traditional GOP elites can no longer control. The Democrats will therefore continue to be largely dominated by Neoliberal and Libertarian economic elites--people who are Left-leaning on cultural issues, but resistant to taxes, regulation, and expanding entitlement programs when it comes to economic domestic policy. It's unlikely that the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders wing of the Party will be able to effect a takeover because the real power in the Party lies with these elites and in protecting their interests. A few bones will be thrown to the Progressives from time to time, but the essential structural interests of the Blue elite will remain sacrosanct.
The consequences of this de facto realignment are abundantly evident. Non-elite Americans are feeling deeply insecure because (1) they are losing ground economically in a globalizing economy that favors economic elites, and (2) because they are feeling profound identity loss in the face of the contempt shown for their traditional values by Blue elites. Red non-elites are channeling that double-barreled insecurity into a populist rage, and since there is no constructive focus for that rage, it is being exploited by demagogues on the Right for fascistic, destructive purposes.
The social psychology here is all about projection. The populist rank-and-file mob, when exploited by a fascist demagogue, project its insecurities and fears onto the demagogue, a big personality, a big Daddy who promises to take care of them. Such demagogues obtain their power by sustaining this kind of transference by telling a simplistic story that explains how their shared political enemy is the cause of their grievances and by promising to avenge them for everything they have suffered. Big lies will be told and believed because all that matters is that a channel for the release of populist anger be found. And so as soon as the enemy is identified, he or she becomes a screen onto which the populist mob can project all its resentment and hatred and need for vengeance.
Blue elites like Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama are about as good as it gets when you need such a screen. They are symbols that embody the contempt Red non-elites feel is directed toward them, their values, and their sense of what it means to be an American. There is nothing that creates more rage than a profound sense of identity loss. It's at the heart of the neither-here-nor-there, am-I this-or-that identity crises educated Muslims experience that lead many of them to become become suicide bombers. Voting for Trump for so many Americans feeling a similar kind of identity loss is like donning a political suicide vest. Their rage at that the forces that have marginalized them and the people who symbolize those forces is greater than their need to pursue their normal, "rational" political self-interests. Rather a chosen, vengeful act of political self-immolation than passively being destroyed by forces beyond their control.
This isn't about who's right and who's wrong. It's about understanding the reality we have to deal with in the next decade and beyond. Populist rage is real, and the people who feel that rage have no reason to believe that the Democrats serve their interests, and so they have no place to go except to the Right. I have argued that the significance of this election lies in that the country was given the choice about whether it wanted to channel that rage constructively or destructively. The opportunity to do it constructively was lost when Dems chose not to nominate Bernie Sanders. It now looks inevitable that if there will be no constructive channel for populist rage that it will continue to intensify, and this intensity will be directed through the destructive channels provided on the Right, and the specific channel for that rage has become the GOP. Principled conservatives recognize that the party has abandoned them, and has become a channel for the destructive fascistic politics of resentment and vengeance.
How does all this end? There is something inherently self-destructive about this kind of extreme Right politics, and it's hard to see how it ends except by burning itself out, and it very likely will burn itself out in violent self-immolation. The fascistic extreme Right will self-immolate sooner or later; they always do. There will be collateral damage. The question remains how long it will take and how much damage will be done. When the smoke clears, and only then, will some kind of realistic, constructive realignment be possible.
Jelani Cobb ends his New Yorker piece excerpted above with this paragraph:
In the broader context, Trumpism represents the demise of American exceptionalism, or at least the refutation of the most cogent arguments for it ever having existed in the first place. An exceptional nation would have better reflexes than this, would recognize the communicable nature of fear more quickly, would rally its immune defense more efficiently than the United States has in the past sixteen months. At a quaint moment in the recent past, it was possible to think that a decisive Clinton victory would exorcise Trumpism from public life. But, on the verge of the election, that idea increasingly seems like an indulgent delusion. The problem of Trump is not simply that his opinions far exceed his knowledge; it’s that what he does know is so hostile to democracy, not only in the Republican Party or the United States but in the world. Whatever happens on November 8th, we are at the outset of a much longer reckoning.
[Revised for clarity and to improve usage 11/7.]