Trump's fascist theatre
Daily News covered its front page with a photograph of the billionaire giving a Hitleresque salute, and added the headline 'The New Furor'.
As Trump maintains his poll lead over other contenders for the Republican nomination for president, an increasing number of journalists and scholars are debating whether he deserves the adjective fascist.
In the 1920s and '30s fascist leaders like Mussolini and Hitler promoted extreme forms of nationalism, denounced various minorities as a threat to the purity of their nations, won the allegiance of impoverished workers as well as some opportunistic capitalists, and raised streetfighting armies.
Those who consider Trump a fascist, like historian Richard Steigmann-Gall and journalist Jeffrey Tucker, insist that he is preaching a twenty-first century version of the ideology of Mussolini and Hitler, and leading an increasing militarised movement. Others, like the Berkeley sociologist Dylan Riley and the Washington Post's Rachel Orr, disagree. They suggest that Trump's rhetoric is opportunistic and incoherent, that his followers are an erratic rabble, and that he lacks any support from America's economic elite.
Trump's main campaign slogan is 'Make America Great Again'. He looks back fondly on the bellicose United States of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with its imperial conquests in Asia and Latin America, its usurpation of Europe, and its supposedly harmonious class and race relations. He laments the fact that his country 'doesn't win victories anymore', and names a series of scapegoats for America's economic and geopolitical decline. Freeloading foreign allies have relied upon American troops and loans to protect them, draining the imperial coffers; violent and sexually deviant Mexicans have breached the Rio Grande in huge numbers, breaking laws and taking natives' jobs; and African Americans have made parts of many American cities no-go zones with their gangs and guns. All of these forces have been encouraged by anti-American liberals and an anti-American media. Now Muslim invaders are entering an almost fatally weakened America. In mosques across the country they are forming terror cells and preparing to impose sharia law on their Christian neighbours.
According to Trump, the Democratic Party is controlled by liberals, and therefore in league with America's enemies, and the leaders of the Republican Party are hypnotised by the regulations and rituals of representative government, and afraid to act boldly in defence of the nation. An outsider needs to take control of the state, and use it to crush America's enemies. The mass internment and deportation of aliens, the extrajudicial killings of the families of terrorists, the registration of every Muslim living in America, the closure of large parts of the internet: all of these measures and more may be necessary. 'We're going to have to do things that we never did before', Trump warned last November.
What is remarkable, though, is the role that Trump's adversaries have come to play in his rallies. In arena after arena, protesters have risen from their seats to challenge the billionaire, waving placards and shouting slogans and attempting to distribute leaflets. Rather than ignore or speedily dismiss these hecklers, Trump has made them the focus of a series of extended denunciations. He has branded them agents of the Mexican government, supporters of ISIS, and liberal journalists in disguise, and encouraged his audiences to confront them. At a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, Trump denounced a black protester; the man was soon knocked to the floor and beaten. In Vermont Trump told his security personnel to throw a group of hecklers out into the cold without their coats, as his audience cheered. In Las Vegas Trump supporters shouted 'Sieg Heil' and 'Light that motherfucker on fire' when several protesters were dragged away. On the rare occasions when his rallies have not attracted hecklers Trump has seemed disappointed.
It is hard to watch footage of Trump's rallies without thinking about Oswald Mosley, the Anglo-Saxon world's most successful fascist. At the rallies that Mosley's British Union of Fascists held in the 1930s, protesters were treated to a meticulous violence. As Mosley denounced Jews, reds, and liberals from his podium, his uniformed private army of 'blackshirts' would aim a spotlight on anyone who shouted or held up a placard during their leader's speeches. As Mosley paused and his supporters cheered, protesters would be beaten and dragged away by blackshirts. At an infamous rally in London's Olympia stadium in 1934, the blackshirts injured dozens of dissenters, one of whom lost an eye.
essay on Hitler's film maker Leni Riefenstahl, Susan Sontag suggested that fascist aesthetics involved a 'contrast between the clean and the impure...the incorruptible and the defiled'. Fascism relies, Sontag said, on an 'irresistable leader' to enforce and maintain purity.
The promise of ruthless, ritualised violence helped to draw huge crowds to Mosley. For the ten thousand angry Britons who filled the Olympia, the men and women who were spotlit and beaten by the blackshirts were the embodiment of all the evil forces - Jews, communists, socialists, race mixers - responsible for their country's malaise. By beating the protesters, the blackshirts were taking a sort of symbolic revenge; by removing the protesters from the audience, they were performing a symbolic act of purification.
Like Mosley's events, Trump's rallies are a sort of fascist theatre where an imagined national community purifies itself by identifying, punishing, and expelling pollutants.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]