Oct 30th 2020

Will Fascism Win the US Election? 

 

NEW YORK – Many Americans can see that voting for US President Donald Trump is tantamount to endorsing white nationalism and the kind of conspiracist, magical thinking that denies real threats like pandemics and climate change. But it also must be recognized that failing to vote against Trump in this year’s election is itself a form of collaboration with an attack on democracy that is already underway.

America today is threatened not just by authoritarianism but by fascism, which operates as an explicitly anti-democratic cult centered around a leader who promises national restoration in the face of humiliation supposedly caused by minorities, liberals, and Marxists. Because fascism glorifies violence and the militarization of politics, we should be wary of the fact that Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Even if his regular use of anti-democratic rhetoric is merely a tactic to divert attention from his failure to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, such language from an elected leader is highly dangerous and should be shocking to citizens in any democracy.

But many Americans are not shocked at all. By normalizing anti-democratic speech and ideology, Trump has increasingly normalized authoritarian rule, too. That is why this election must be understood as a struggle for the survival of American democracy itself. Trump’s strategy of undermining democratic norms and the legitimacy of the election is eerily reminiscent of the destruction of Latin American democracies in the 1960s and 1970s, when autocrats manufactured an environment in which acts that were previously deemed illegal suddenly became the new standard.

To be sure, whereas fascism typically offers a grand vision of “national restoration,” Trump has no such vision to speak of. But that does not mean America is safe from fascism. Trump’s attacks on democracy are a response to the challenges that his personality cult is facing, both from the nationwide mobilization of resistance against its main ideological pillar, white nationalism, and from the Democratic Party, which seems more unified than ever.

These two threats are not coordinated, as Trumpian propaganda would have it. But they have created a pretext for Trump to deploy the fascist playbook even more aggressively than he has before. As with the classic fascist movements of the past, this new, more dangerous phase of Trumpism features a campaign that has doubled down on messianic leadership, the subornation of violence, and open attacks on the constitutional order.

At this stage, the Trumpian personality cult has completely dispensed with the need for actual plans and proposals (indeed, the Republican Party, which Trump now controls, did not even bother to offer a policy platform for the election). Trump embodies whatever his supporters want, even when they themselves don’t know what that is. This is all too typical of fascist leaders, who usually function as a father figure for those susceptible to the appeal of an authoritarian personality. As the father of the “MAGA” nation, Trump decides what is best for his children, and it is this patriarchal authority that provides the rationale for violence, lies, and even dictatorship.

In this context, other forms of authority (be it scientific or legal) are seen as direct threats to an aspiring fascist leader. It is no wonder that Trump responds with immediate anger when he is contradicted by Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert. When Trump himself fell ill with COVID-19, he used the occasion not as a wake-up call but as an opportunity to demonstrate his physical strength (with the help of powerful steroids). By the same token, displays of strength, domination, and violence by supporters of the fascist leader are duly rewarded, especially when they clearly violate norms and civilized constraints, as when Trump pardoned the Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, who was convicted of heinous war crimes.

Finally, with Trump occupying the position of the father, there is a strong religious dimension to Trumpism. In this context, one must not take lightly Trump’s cynical and clumsy displays of religiosity. The more that Trump’s followers regard him as a kind of divine authority, the more justified they will feel in using violence to defend him. The armed civilians who threaten and even shoot protesters in the streets are not “defending property.” Rather, they are claiming the right to use violence against the leader’s enemies. The use of federal, state, and local forces against the same protesters is deemed justified – even when it is illegal – to defend an order that starts from the top.

With the approach of Election Day, Trump has elevated the risk of fascism. He routinely depicts those who oppose him in brazenly racist terms, and his administration has supercharged its mistreatment of immigrants under its control, including by allegedly allowing a “silent pandemic” to spread through an immigrant detention center in Georgia. The connection between immigrants and disease is a familiar trope in fascist propaganda, as is the strategy of making the propaganda come true, as the National Socialists did in Europe’s ghettos in the 1930s.

Trump has also been stepping up his campaign to undermine the public’s trust in electoral institutions. Here, he has been building on Republicans’ long history of efforts to disenfranchise African-American voters and gerrymandering to reduce the weight of votes in more diverse, left-leaning urban centers.

The point of all this is to head off the possibility of an electoral loss by claiming that a broad, anti-democratic cabal of media elites is “rigging” the system to block the will of the people. As we have seen, no amount of empirical evidence can convince Trump’s supporters that their leader’s claims of election fraud are false. Fact-checking by the mainstream media is easily dismissed as just another conspiracy among elite enemies of the people.

If the early reported results on Election Day are pointing to a defeat for Trump, that will be his last chance to cash in on the faith of his followers, by translating a long-cultivated skepticism of the electoral process into new physical threats, potentially creating a crisis in which he will claim to be above the law. If Trump does not accept an electoral defeat, he will have nowhere else to turn but toward a distinctively fascist form of authoritarianism.

Only a clear, decisive victory for Joe Biden can make that much more difficult to pull off. The implication is clear: failing to vote against the Trump cult is no different than joining it oneself.

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Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
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May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."