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The Momentum of Trumpian Fascism Is Building: Stopping It Is Up to Us

Democrats have neither the will nor the audacity to lead the people in this fight. We must do it ourselves.

Doctors, nurses and medical students march to the entrance of the Tornillo Port of Entry in Tornillo, Texas, to demand an end to separation of immigrant children from their parents on June 23, 2018.

A national crisis has engulfed the Trump regime since escalating its fascist assault on immigrants by separating children from their parents at the Southern border. The pictures and stories of children being ripped from the arms of their parents, locked in cages, infants incarcerated in “tender age” facilities, kids screaming in terror for their parents and separated across the country without hope of finding each other — has shaken the country. Millions have been shocked into a state of revulsion and outrage at the cruel inhumanity of this regime.

Immigrant mothers held under charges of “illegal entry” to the US at a federal detention center near Seattle reported to US Rep. Pramila Jayapal that after their children were forcibly taken away without even being able to say goodbye, they could hear their children screaming for them in the next room. One mother reported to Jayapal that a Border Patrol agent told her, “You will never see your children again. Families don’t exist here. You won’t have a family anymore.” After kidnapping their kids, these officials wouldn’t even tell the parents where their kids were. Mothers who cried were mocked by agents. Federal defenders said authorities separated parents from kids by lying that the kids were just being taken out to be given a bath.

For days, various Trump officials spun out a web of deception and completely conflicting story lines to cover-up, justify and continue this horror. Then, in the face of massive outrage from all corners forcing even prominent Republican Trump backers to worry things were going to unravel, Trump signed an executive order supposedly ending separation of parents and kids.

While Trump was forced to back up and blink, more deeply, this is a maneuver to dampen the outrage while continuing the fascist terrorizing of immigrants in new ways. This order, which could fall apart under court challenges, proposes to end separating children from parents by incarcerating both together in detention facilities indefinitely. It continues the “zero tolerance policy” of locking up and charging all immigrants who cross into the US without going through a port of entry. It instructs the Defense Department to begin building detention camps to incarcerate immigrant families. Justice Department lawyers are expected to challenge a previous court ruling that established basic minimal humanitarian guarantees for immigrant children, meaning they want to be able to hold immigrant kids in detention in conditions that violate this standard.

The horror and trauma of all this continues. After separating more than 2,000 children, the government has established no means for parents to find their kids or for them to be reunited. This executive order does nothing about that. Still, after all this, the government has refused to divulge where female children are being held or allow unfettered access to these facilities. This vicious regime has disappeared children from parents fleeing horrific violence in countries devastated by US policies. It has locked up, kidnapped and shipped kids around the country with no accounting, no plans for reuniting them with parents and no measures for ensuring their safety. And they persevered in doing so, only changing course when forced to, and then continued this assault in new forms while admitting no wrong,

If all of this doesn’t justly remind people of the Nazi treatment of Jewish children and families, then they’re either historically unaware or willfully oblivious. This crisis continues. If Trump and his bullies are not made to fully back down, to release immigrant parents and kids, stop deporting them, provide for their safety and adjudicate asylum claims, this will be an ominous consolidation of fascism.

Echoes of Fascism From History

At the same moment this crisis was beginning, Trump’s assertion of other dictatorial powers was also gaining momentum. In a memo to Robert Mueller, Trump’s lawyers argued he was in effect above the law and couldn’t commit obstruction of justice. Then Trump claimed the right to pardon himself. Trump’s ghoulish consigliere Rudy Giuliani proclaimed that Trump could shoot James Comey in the Oval Office and not be indicted. This is a not so subtle threat of Trump’s capability of eliminating a rival who Trump deems an existential threat to his power.

These, of course, are just the latest of the mounting outrages. In the book, Fire and Fury, author Michael Wolff says part of the logic of Trump’s seeming illogic is to follow each outrage with another, so that the previous one is forgotten. This also serves the purpose of wearing down or numbing those who have a sense of right and wrong; to cause them to accept the unacceptable.

For a long time, many said that Trump was “accomplishing nothing.” Some still talk about the turnover in the Trump White House as a completely ineffectual chaos of a political amateur. But what this misses is the very dangerous way Trump is normalizing vicious assaults on immigrant families; legitimizing open white supremacy and racism, including propelling the most hateful elements into the public square; consolidating an unthinking, compassionless base unable or unwilling to tell the difference between truth and fiction; undermining the rule of law; delegitimizing the mainstream press; and expanding the plunder of the natural world.

Trump has been called a buffoon or unfit. To be sure, Trump’s case is in some ways a unique and peculiar one. He has an obsessive need for fawning adulation; his decision-making is based on “gut instinct” that eschews evidence and reason; and his worldview is embedded in the deep history of American chauvinism, white supremacy, genocide and brutal repression. When all this is sorted through however, you have a man not substantially different from other fascist leaders seeking dictatorial powers.

After Trump was elected, Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler, wrote the piece “Against Normalization,” in the Los Angeles Review of Books, looking at Trump in light of the history of Hitler’s Germany and its attacks on the press. Rosenbaum’s description of Hitler’s maneuvering for power is chillingly reminiscent of Trump: “Hitler used the tactics of bluff masterfully, at times giving the impression of being a feckless Chaplinesque clown, at other times a sleeping serpent, at others yet a trustworthy statesman. The Weimar establishment didn’t know what to do, so they pretended this was normal. They ‘normalized’ him.”

By many accounts, Hitler was given to fits of extreme rage and unable to confront reality, especially as his armies were being wiped out. At the same time, he was a virulent racist guided by fascist aims to conquer Europe, expand Germany’s “lebensraum” (living room), wipe out the Soviet “threat” and “Aryanize” the populace, eventually through genocide. The Hitler/Trump comparison is not a perfect fit. However, the basic tenets of extreme nationalism, racism, misogyny, and disgust with democracy and the rule of law are essentially the same.

In reading Robert Paxton’s book, The Anatomy of Fascism, which focuses particularly on Nazism and Mussolini’s Italy, the parallels between those experiences and Trump’s America come further into relief. People ask, How can this presidency be fascist when there are so many incongruities, whipsawing public statements, such seeming incoherence and ludicrous claims? This book, and others written on the history of fascism, help make sense of much of this.

Paxton quotes from the German writer Thomas Mann who commented that the Nazi “revolution” was “without underlying ideas, against ideas, against everything nobler, better, decent, against freedom, truth, and justice.”

German lawyer and political scientist Franz Leopold Neumann wrote in Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933-1944,

National Socialism has no theory of society as we understand it, no consistent picture of its operation, structure and development. It has certain aims to carry through and adjusts its ideological pronouncements to a series of ever-changing goals…. It has certain magical beliefs — leadership adoration, the supremacy of the master race — but its ideology is not laid down in a series of categorical and dogmatic pronouncements.

Paxton says fascism is more plausibly linked to a set of “‘mobilizing passions’ that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulated philosophy. At bottom is a passionate nationalism …” and a conspiratorial view of history as a fight between good and evil “… in which one’s own community or nation has been the victim.” Does this sound familiar?

I’ve had Trump supporters tweet at me that it’s ridiculous to compare Trump to Hitler because Trump hasn’t murdered 6 million Jews. Well, Hitler hadn’t murdered 6 million Jews by the time he came to power, either. The point isn’t that Trump is exactly like Hitler or that a certain trajectory is guaranteed. There are also many large differences between the United States in 2018 and Germany of 1933. On the other hand, much of the logic and essential character of the two projects is quite a bit the same. As author Richard Evans, a leading scholar on the history of Nazi Germany put it, in Trump, you see echoes of Hitler that are “very alarming.”

There was an underlying logic and process of development in Nazi Germany. The initial Nazi program in power in 1933 was to brutally suppress Communists and expel Jews, not to eliminate them through mass murder. Communists, and then Jews, were the Nazi spear points of attack. Succeeding in targeting these sections of people without being stopped allowed them to go forward suppressing all other opposition. They proceeded to Nazify society, laying the basis for fascist war. Over the next years, the Nazis step by step stripped rights, livelihood and citizenship from Jewish people, and as necessity confronting the Nazis sharpened with war, the “mobilizing passion” of “Aryanization” and considering Jews to be subhuman developed into an active policy of genocide.

Trump called immigrants “animals” and non-white countries “shitholes” while considering people from these countries disposable. These are not just words. They are dangerous affirmations of an outlook capable of horrors we can barely imagine right now. And now these words are being acted on.

We Can’t Count on Political Parties — We Must Act

As Paxton says, “Fascists need a demonized enemy against which to mobilize followers, but of course the enemy does not have to be Jewish. Each culture specifies the national enemy.” To the US, this has always meant Black people and Native Americans at home and other oppressed peoples internationally. Now, Muslims and Latino immigrants have been added, with the Trumpian spear point aimed at immigrants and their children. If this is not stopped and reversed, more horrors are to come. If they succeed on this, they will come for others, one by one, until opposition is silenced or wiped out.

Trump and his regime, along with the national Republican Party, are transforming a capitalist democracy, already living off of the brutal oppression of people worldwide and at home, into an openly fascist form of capitalism, where the grinding down of the oppressed is raised to an even more horrifying level, even possibly a genocidal one. Fascism means the essential elimination of basic norms and rights present under ordinary capitalist rule; stifling and even eliminating the rule of law, freedom of the press, the rights to free speech; and the violent suppression of opposition.

As this tyranny builds up, more people are recognizing that Trump is moving to fascism. Many are seeing the danger, recognizing that fascism is being normalized, and the reality that, Yes, we are like a frog being slowly boiled in that warming pot.

Others still write off Trump and the danger of what is happening now. Talk focuses on how many years it will take to reverse the damage, as if this is guaranteed. The Democratic Party claims that this will be somehow reversed by a “blue wave” of midterm voters or a combination of this and the Mueller probe.

This is a tremendous mistake for a number of reasons. While it is true the deep differences between the Democrats and Republicans, or the strains within the Trump coalition, for example, could intensify and the Mueller probe can be one factor here, it is unlikely that this alone would lead to Trump being impeached or forced to resign. For one, Trump and his current grouping are not like Richard Nixon. Confronted with impeachment, Nixon resigned. To the Trumpers, it’s keep power or die. Even faced with a finding that Trump obstructed justice, who believes that Trump — who reviles and is seeking to destroy the rule of law and is incapable of following previous norms — would step aside instead of doubling down on power? There is also no reason to think that the Republican Party, now essentially Trump’s party, would impeach him.

With many Democrats still refusing to even put impeachment on the table, why believe that the 2018 midterms would lead to Trump’s ouster? Who can guarantee that elections would be fair, with the continual scrubbing of Black people and others from voter rolls and other methods of voter suppression already in play and recently given new support by the Supreme Court? Further, even if Trump goes down somehow, Pence is then president, and if there has not been significant and massive mobilization in the streets, this regime would recoup and roll on.

The Democrats — who refuse to call out the fascist threat and mainly still advise people to channel their outrage into voting in the midterms — have neither the will nor the audacity to lead people to stop the direction the US is headed in. They are a ruling-class party more fearful of upheaval by millions of people than of fascism, despite the fact that fascism could mean their own elimination.

Time is short and fascism is gaining ground. Millions deeply hate what is going on. Many more could be swung to more active opposition if those who do recognize the dangers and refuse to accept them join with each other and generate a movement to force Trump and Pence from power.

This would have to be sustained and developed into a concerted effort. It would have to unite many of the different strains and elements of what has been the active opposition and powerful resistance to Trump, but reach far more broadly into the deep opposition among millions to everything this regime is going for.

It’s time for all to realize we have a common goal of stopping the consolidation of fascism. We have to organize ourselves, form networks, build structures, speak out publicly and get into the streets and not stop until fascism is stopped. Forcing out a regime that threatens life while bringing forward many contending visions and programs of a much better future can open the way to this world. If we don’t move soon, it will be too late, and we will have allowed unspeakable horrors to come.