On Fascism American Style
by Playthell Benjamin
At first glance the rise of multi-billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump as a hero of the white working class seems paradoxical; since his interests and that of his class and cronies are diametrically opposed to the concerns and interests of workers. Alas Trump’s appeal to that class of voters reflects the age old tendency for desperate people to turn to the “strong man” for salvation; they invest this savior figure with nearly omnipotent powers and come to believe that their fate depends on him. These are ideal conditions for the rise of demagogues and dictators. More often than not such men are megalomaniacs who come to believe that they alone can lead the nation.
That’s Donald Trump’s view of his role in American politics, the man who will “Make America great again,” and he reminds me of another charismatic megalomaniacal demagogue: Adolph Hitler, who pledged to restore Germany to her former glory and create a regime that would rule the world for a thousand years. Furthermore, even as I write many people who attend Trump’s rallies conjure images of German Brown Shirts at Hitler’s Rallies; snatching signs from protestors, verbally abusing them and even physically assaulting them.
Furthermore, they conduct these odious anti-democratic activities with the urging of Donald Trump, who told his security people to throw a protestor out and “confiscate his coat” although they were in Vermont and there was freezing weather outside! Things have gotten so bad that his recent rally at the University of Chicago degenerated into a full scale brawl and Trump’s appearance had to be cancelled. Trump’s home town newspaper – The Daily News – who know him best summed up Trump’s campaign in bold headlines on its cover page: “BLOOD ON DON’S HANDS.”
Verbally assaulting dissenters in the audience was also a tactic employed by George Wallace – a home grown white Fascist – and can be seen on films of his mass meetings. As I write Tom Turnipseed, the Executive Director of George Wallace’s presidential campaign in 1968, when he was the candidate of the American Independence Party, says that Trump is running a campaign very much like that of George Wallace! This is no picayune matter, beause the Independence Party was based on the same racial ideology as the German Nazi’s, who borrowed it from the USA – see “Some Unpleasant Truths.”* The reason that Tom has come forth is because he and Wallace would later repent for their racist deeds and denounce racism. Hence his comments about the Trump campaign are enlightening and offer rare insights that cannot be found elsewhere.
“They both understood the use of fear” says Turnipseed. With Wallace it was “the blacks are taking over, with Trump its Mexicans and Chinese. They are a lot alike.” Peggy Wallace Kennedy, George’s daughter, who has denounced her father’s racist past, says Trump is nastier than her father. Mrs. Turnipseed, Tom’s wife, pointed out yet another way that the Wallace and Trump political styles are alike. “They attract large crowds and get people all fired up and angry by describing the problems they face, but they don’t offer any solutions.”
Hence the American Independent Party, which was organized by George Wallace as a white Christian Nationalist party, mostly composed of working class Protestants that openly advocated white supremacy enforced by the legal and extra-legal use of organized violence had much in common with the German National Socialist. All of these factors are characteristic of a fascist movement and can be clearly observed in Trump’s campaign.
Alas, one need only compare the podium styles of classic fascist leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini to Trump’s stump style in photographs and film – – i.e. hysterical facial expressions and body language accompained by hyperbolic belligerent rhetoric – to recognize the similarity of their modus operandi. Furthermore, if one conducts a comparative analysis of Hitler’s speech which preceded his declaration of war on the US, with Trump’s speech in Vermont on January 8, you will find that both speeches are based on a series of blatant lies! Yet in both cases their adoring audiences clung to their every word as if it was the gospels, and their response bordered on the kind of mass hysteria one observes among religious fundamentalists true believers.
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at his South Carolina campaign kickoff rally in Bluffton, S.C., Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton). Notice the hysterical expressions on all their faces!
Ever since I became aware of the history of European political movements in the twentieth century, a little over fifty years ago, I have heard speculations about the possibility of those radical European political movements succeeding in the USA: especially Communism and Fascism. I was first introduced to this discourse by old activists on the left; many of them had been radical unionists who believed that the advent of socialism was inevitable because the increasing inequality of income and wealth under capitalism would result in a revolt of the masses against the plutocrats led by the organized working class. As Marx put it, the inherent contradictions in the capitalist system “will produce its grave diggers.”
Hence choosing a plutocrat as their leader makes as much sense as poor whites in the antebellum south, whose poverty was the result of the fact that they were competing with the slave laborers of the planter class, going off to war to fight and die to preserve this system, and the descendants continue to celebrate this shameful historical embarrassment! White workers then, and now, are caught up in a tragic paradox. And the poor southern whites who reject Barack Obama, the best friend they have ever had in the Oval Office, or is likely to have in that Office, in favor of a cynical, coldblooded plutocrat and vain braggart like Donald Trump – a soulless demagogue who is simply exploiting them with empty rhetoric and couldn’t care less about their concerns. “The Donald” wouldn’t piss on one of these poor whites if he saw them on fire during a stroll in Central Park.
Of course the view of the western proletariat as the historically appointed leader of the world revolution that would end the exploitation of the working class by capitalists was conceived in the 19th century by the brilliant political economist/materialist philosopher Karl Marx. However as the Chinese American philosopher Grace Lee Boggs pointed out in a conversation with this writer, “Marx could not have even imagined the world we live in. In Marx’s time smokestacks in large cities were viewed as a sign of human progress; today we know that they could spell our doom.” I have also talked to many skeptics who believe that the white American working class is more likely to support fascism than socialism.
Alas, judging from the swelling crowds of white workers that greet Donald Trump’s every public appearance; they may prove to be right! Everywhere Trump goes he is greeted with tumultuous applause reminiscent of the kind of crowds that turned out for Sarah Palin – the former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate whose principal contribution to American politics was to make ignorance fashionable, and the rejection of reportage from reliable journalistic sources. Through her persistent use of the term “Lame Street Media,” the Alaskan Barbarian has convinced the “Dumb Doras” and “Joe Six Packs” to be suspicious of serious news organizations that strive for objectivity, in favor of the politicized propaganda of unreliable sources like FOX Network news or empty talking radio heads like Rush Limbaugh and Sea Hannity.
These people, who number in the millions, are so confused about the political forces at play, and which of these players are committed to addressing their pressing economic and cultural concerns – i.e. returning prayer in schools; outlawing abortion; banning gay marriage; et al – that they have fallen under the spell of a verbose megalomaniacal ignoramus who may understand business but very little about history, sociology, science, foreign relations and military matters. All of which are essential tools for good governance in the complex political and natural environment of the 21st century. Trump’s speech at Vermont on 1/8/2016 is a model of the phenomenon that I am describing. All the factors are there. In many ways he reminds me of Hitler, but in a wholly American way.
If Adolph Hitler had not been a militaristic Austrian Corporal drunk on German romanticism and myths of Nordic superiority, but a pragmatic fast talking New York real estate huckster with a salesman’s gift of gab; a television reality show host who has mastered the medium; gifted with a comedian’s timing and a friendly fascist smile, he would be Donald Trump. In his book “Friendly Fascism,” written 35 years ago, Bertram Gross makes the following observation about the character of American Fascism: “ The unifying element in this unfolding logic is the capital-accumulation imperative of the world’s leading capitalist forces, creatively adjusted to meet the challenges of the many crises I have outlined. This is quite different from the catch-up imperatives of the Italian, German, and Japanese leaders after World War I. Nor would its working out necessarily require a charismatic dictator, one-party rule, glorification of the State, dissolution of legislatures, termination of multiparty elections, ultra nationalism, or attacks on rationality.”
The essential truth of this observation is verified in the rise of Donald Trump. However I would point out that in Trump we do not have a “charismatic dictator” only because the American system of checks and balances will not allow it. But Trump is a “charismatic revivalist,” who plays the same role of all-knowing “strong man” who express the anxieties and grievances of his followers with dynamic oratory that convinces them that he alone possesses the will and the way to solving the nation’s pressing problems. Furthermore they are also “Ultranationalists” and regularly assault logic – even the indisputable truths revealed by the scientist of climate change. Hence in Trump and his followers we can clearly observe several prominent features of classic fascism in the “Friendly Fascist” that Gross outlined.
The audience Trump was speaking to were bummed out white workers and people struggling to remain in the lower middle class. It was obvious from their responses to the mindless drivel flowing from Trump’s pie hole, masquerading as serious political oratory, that these people are the proto-type of “Low Information Voters.” Poorly educated, disillusioned, frustrated, struggling white workers; many of whom are lost souls that witnessed their world of white privilege disappear like ice sickles in the blazing sun. They are the same demographic that brought Hitler and Mussolini to power in Germany and Italy during the 1930’s.
One has only to listen to the daily broadcast of Rush Limbaugh to see why he has been branded an American clone of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda for the Nazi Reich, by Arthur Fromer; who was part of a US Army intelligence team dispatched to Germany right after the fall of the Reich to investigate the critical role of radio in the rise of Nazism.
Since I have already written about this issue I will not belabor it here (see: Is Rush an American Goebbels”). Hence Fromer knows whereof he speaks and is as close to an unimpeachable source as one is likely to find. It is enough to witness Sarah Palin firing up the crowd with racist anti-Obama rhetoric at an outdoor rally in Strongsville Ohio and compare it to film footage of Hitler and Mussolini – see clips at bottom of essay – to recognize that they are the same class of phenomenon.
Alas, Trump has infinitely greater means to communicate mass propaganda, since neither television nor the internet existed during the rise of the Nazi’s. And this augmented power to beam controlled messages in sound image and text into the brains of millions of Americans means that Trump can create the hysteria the Nazi’s produced in the German people in far less time.
Although several of Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans have openly called him a “Fascist,” none have defined what they mean by it. Originally this term was designed to describe several far rightwing movements that developed in Italy, Germany and Japan in the first half of the twentieth century, spawning dictatorial regimes that promised the people economic prosperity and a return to national greatness.
This was the mantra of the Fascist Party in Italy, National Socialist in Germany, and the Empire of the Rising Sun in Japan. Each of these regimes had their individual characteristics; which is determined by national character and cultural styles. These are precisely the same things that Trump is promising although with a made in America style that resembles a television game show host – a uniquely American invention.
Hence Hitler’s militarism has deep roots in German history and culture. A highly intellectual culture, thoughtful Germans had long debated the relative merits of the soldier and statesman vs. the philosopher and poet to society. Which was the higher calling? At times, the ever present militarist tradition of Prussia ruled the nation’s sensibilities, and it is that tradition that Hitler tapped into as he campaigned in the aftermath of the German defeat in World War I and the imposition of the humiliating terms of the Versailles Treaty on Germany.
The Japanese before World War II considered the Emperor a divine figure and the military was the emperor’s sword. With a long and brilliant military history based in the Samurai tradition, they confronted the rising tide of white world domination expressed by the invasion of the colored nations, colonizing them, stealing their lands and resources while reducing them to slaves in their own countries, yet the white nations of the world refused to even consider Japanese demands that racism be made a crime under international law at the 1919 Versailles Conference to shape the new world order in the aftermath of World War I.
Hence the Japanese militarized their society and declared the right of Japan to build an empire across Asia by armed force in the name of their divine emperor. The called it “The Empire of the Rising Sun,” and adopted the slogan “Asia for the Asians.” For an insightful and broadly learned analysis of this development see “Race War” by the distinguished historian Dr. Gerald Horne. And Benito Mussolini, who claims to have invented the term “fascist,” of course promised to restore the glories of ancient Rome. Just as “The Donald” has pledged to “make America great again” by building up the military to such fire power “nobody will dare mess with us again!”
In America the most admired and celebrated figure is the millionaire and billionaire businessman/woman. More people aspire to this status than any other. Even our greatest athletes, and artists, along with powerful politicians genuflect to these plutocrats like ancient Israelites bowed down before the golden calf; who oftentimes own them body and soul. When Trump combines his exalted status as billionaire with the deep seated traditions of paranoia and populism in American politics it is no mystery why a politically ignorant businessman like Donald Trump is attracting such crowds among the disillusioned and untutored white working class mob as he brazenly flaunts his wealth. They see him as their Deliverer alas.
As I listened to the hope the white workers at the Vermont rally place in him, if I didn’t know better I would have thought they were talking about Jesus Christ. It is a naïve hope invested in a charlatan who cannot possibly fulfill his promises. Hence they shall become even more combustible when they feel betrayed yet again; the way they feel about the Republican establishment now; which is what created this opening for Trump. The Poet Laureate of Harlem Langston speaks to the consequences of this kind of mass disillusionment in his powerful poem, What Happens to a Dream Deferred? “Does it sag like a heavy load, or does it explode!”
Like desperate people throughout history, going back to ancient times – demagogue is an ancient Greek word that describes a person who deceives the masses into believing that he cares about their troubles while using them to pursue his own interests – poor whites that support Trump are turning to a “strong man” who has lured them into his camp by telling the “big lie” that the cause of their economic problems is a “stupid” black president – although Obama actually saved them from complete economic ruin after the Republicans wrecked the economy – unpopular minorities who should be driven from the country or put in their place if they stay; just like Hitler scapegoated German Jews. And Trump is proving Dr. Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich, correct: “If you tell a big lie to enough people often enough they will believe it.” Trump is also proving the truth of Thomas Jefferson’s warning “An ignorant electorate will elect and return the worst people to power.”
Based on the observable evidence it is safe to conclude that Trump is a charlatan with fascistic tendencies – albeit American style with a fake salesman smile and informal demeanor that reminds me of the comedian Joan Rivers’ shtick “can we talk” – who is poised to seize the Republican nomination. This is a truly frightening possibility. All Americans should ask what, for instance, does Trump mean when he talks about the police acting too “politically correct” in dealing with demonstrators? What does history tell us about how demonstrators were made to pay a price for lawfully assembling. Well I think of “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmond Pettis Bridge in Alabama, and since he was referring to college students at the University of Chicago Kent State especially comes to mind. For those who don’t remember the Kent State Massacre please note the Photograph below!
Once he gets the nomination of the Grand Obstructionist Party Trump will have a chance of becoming president; which would be a catastrophe for America and the world. All progressives must now quit the squabbling among themselves and join the struggle to stop this dangerous egomaniac with a messiah complex. Our marching orders must be: “No enemies on the left!” Do you hear that Corny West?
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.