There has been a lot of well-intentioned hand wringing about the rise of Donald Trump, causing many liberals and progressives to double down on their support of Hillary Clinton because of the fascist threat that Trump represents. This is not surprising, given the growing signs of a proto-fascism, or what Umberto Eco calls “ur-fascism” in Trump’s campaign.
Trump does indeed embody, or at least signal, an adherence to many of the elements of an emergent fascism in a contemporary US context. He has become the darling of the alt-right movements, which openly embrace eugenics, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism in the service of “restoring” a conservative culture of white male domination, all of which is in keeping with a fascist politics.
While there is much more to be said about the exact nature of fascism, Trump’s right-wing nationalism and economic populism are more in line with the fascist practices of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler than any past major US presidential candidate.
The main response of many liberals and progressives to this fascist threat has been to pour more money into the Clinton campaign and post even more things to Facebook attacking Trump. It is certainly true that defeating Trump will be a major blow to the alt-right and the fascist turn in US politics, but it is important to realize that defeating Trump will not put an end to them. While Trump may slink off the national political stage and return to his corrupt business dealings, there are many more in the wings hoping to ride the anger and resentment Trump has unleashed to their own political ends. Campaign contributions, phone banking and get-out-the-vote efforts will not be enough to directly challenge this threat over the long haul.
Here are some other things we must do to build a broad and robust anti-fascist politics to transform people’s political views and serve as a bulwark to the politics of white male resentment roiling the nation:
1. Form or Join a Labor Union
Unions have been the single most important American institution in demanding an economy that serves the needs of working people. From the eight-hour day to worker’s compensation, the labor movement has been the source of power for most of the progressive economic reforms of the last century. While unions rarely speak with only one voice and have themselves engaged in racial and gender discrimination, they remain essential to opposing the empty and dangerous right-wing populism embodied by Trump.
Unfortunately, over the last 40 years, union membership has declined significantly, especially in private sector unions. While Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981 was the opening salvo in this process, politicians of both parties have overseen the weakening of labor laws and the embracing of a politics of free markets and government austerity that undermine the bargaining power of workers and their unions. It is essential that workers have organized political power if we hope to reverse the neoliberal economics that has undermined standards of living and increased inequality.
In addition, we have to struggle to make those unions more democratic and more relevant to working people. We need to embrace various forms of social unionism that look to defend the broad interests of working people. Narrow business unionism, devoid from a more systemic political analysis, has left unions vulnerable and members alienated.
2. Defend the Constitution
Fascism relies on extra-legal politics to gain power. Trump is clearly signaling his disdain for the rule of law by calling the election “rigged” and threatening to jail Clinton if he wins. A Trump victory and any future fascist movements would invariably call for a variety of witch hunts targeting immigrants, Muslims, political progressives, and others. It is therefore essential that we have robust organizations that can fight back against violations of the constitution. The ACLU was founded in the face of just such a threat in the 1920s as the “Red Scares” and “Palmer Raids” led to large-scale civil rights violations. They and groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center are at the forefront of exposing and pushing back against racist, xenophobic and misogynist actions by governments at all levels. These groups have brought litigation on behalf of immigrants wrongly deported or held in deplorable conditions, defended the right to protest and informed the public about the threats posed by right-wing extremists. The Constitution remains a vital if imperfect tool for defending individual liberties in the face of potentially tyrannical leaders like Trump. We must join and actively support these organizations to protect the rights of those who would be targeted by fascist movements.
3. Support Those Under Attack
Trump and the alt-right have centered their politics on vilifying immigrants, Muslims and anyone else perceived to interfere with the “supremacy” of the white male. We must all directly support groups that represent the interests of targeted populations so that they can better defend themselves and organize for greater political power as an alternative to the politics of hate. Large organizations like the ACLU and American Friends Services Committee do great work supporting immigrants, but we also need to support those doing grassroots organizing, like the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Desis Rising Up and Moving and United We Dream who are working at the local level and in coalition with other groups across the country.
We must also directly confront the forces of fascism in the streets. Just like “clinic defenders” have warded off anti-abortion extremists, anti-fascists must be prepared to demonstrate against right-wing forces such as the KKK wherever they attempt to manifest themselves publicly. Many have already taken the first step by constantly disrupting Trump rallies, but stopping a growing fascist movement will require much larger-scale mobilizations.
4. Engage Local Politics
For too many people, politics means voting for the president every four years and not much else. Unfortunately, this is the arena in which individuals have the least influence. The sums of money needed and the politics of the parties are such that individual choice plays a very small role. The outcome in most states is a forgone conclusion, leaving only a handful of “battleground” states in play. If you don’t live in one of these states, then your vote is essentially taken for granted.
It is essential that we begin revitalizing politics at the local level. The fundamentalist right wing understood this all too well when they began running people for local school boards and city council seats, building political momentum for the anti-evolution, anti-choice and anti-immigrant politics that produced the current crop of GOP national leaders like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump.
There are strong structural impediments to participation in electoral politics. Big money increasingly plays a role even in local races, with hedge fund billionaires pouring millions into local races in hopes of getting richer by privatizing schools and cutting taxes for themselves. But we cannot concede this territory. We need to form local political clubs that engage elected officials and push for progressive legislation. The Working Families Party, which started in New York and is growing nationally, offers a model. By combining grassroots issue campaigns with targeted endorsements of pro-labor progressives, they are trying to push the Democratic Party to the left from the ground up. Many are turned off from this kind of politics because it is messy and full of compromises, of which the Working Families Party has made many. But we cannot sit on the sidelines discussing foreign affairs and national politics from a position of moral certainty but political powerlessness. We have to get our hands dirty in the trenches. Not just working to elect yet another moderate Democrat, but instead to develop a real agenda with real popular support and the tools to implement it.
5. Form Study Groups
Developing a political agenda for unions and local political clubs, and figuring out which organizations to support require an analysis of the nature of the fascist threat and how to counter it. It’s not enough to read a social media feed or subscribe to a few progressive publications. A real analysis requires deeper study and a community of people to engage with.
Ideally, study groups should be connected to the struggles we are each participating in. Unions, political clubs and grassroots organizations should all sponsor and encourage such active learning and long-term thinking. We need a much stronger analysis of the economic and political dynamics that have created the current moment and strategies for reversing the trend of growing inequality and right-wing backlash.
None of these things on its own will automatically end the threat of fascism, and no one person can fully engage all of these recommendations. But we must each reject the illusion that investing all our energies in the politics of presidential elections will be sufficient either. Now is the time to start preparing for a future in which whoever wins the presidency, right-wing nationalist movements will continue to threaten us. We cannot expect Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party to do it for us.