Perspectives: Fascism Lite: The ‘Ur-fascism’ of Donald J. Trump and Company

 Things to read:

“On Message” by Lewis H. Lapham: From Age of Folly: America Abandons its Democracy (Verso, London/New York, 2016).

“Containing Trump” by Jonathan Rauch: From ‘The Atlantic’, March 2017.

“How to Build and Autocracy” by David Frum: From ‘The Atlantic’, March 2017.

“But I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, then Fascism and Communism, aided, unconsciously perhaps, by old-line Tory Republicanism, will grow in strength in our land.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, November 4, 1938

Lewis Lapham’s new book, “Age of Folly” chronicles as a series of ‘Harper’s’ essays the demise of America’s democracy. An avalanche of political, social and cultural garbage delivers a coup against the democratic project, which was designed to be fragile at best by founding father’s whose interest was property and privilege against the mobs. In a 2005 essay, Lapham takes note of an Umberto Eco essay from the ‘New York Review of Books’ (1995) in which Eco suggests that it is a mistake to translate fascism into a figure of literary speech. Lapham writes, “By retrieving from our historical memory only the vivid and familiar images of fascist tyranny (Gestapo firing squads, Soviet labor camps, the chimneys at Treblinka), we lose sight of the faith-based initiatives that sustained the tyrant’s rise to glory.” In this regard, we can think of American initiatives in this direction as well, the glorification of endless military adventures and the adulation by mobs of returning veterans as Roman heroes against the barbarian horde, the pageants of flags, symbols and signs glorifying the Nation, glory sustained only by emotion without intellect or reason. “The several experiments with fascist government,” Lapham continues, “didn’t depend on a single portfolio of dogma, and so Eco, in search of their common ground, doesn’t look for a unifying principle or a standard text. He attempts to describe a way of thinking and a habit of mind…”

Eco describes these habits of mind:

The truth is revealed once and only once.

Donald Trump has often announced that he possesses the truth, which will

be revealed after the election.

 Parliamentary democracy is by definition rotten because it doesn’t represent the voice of the people, which is that of the supreme leader.

            Donald Trump “alone” an solve America’s problems.

 Doctrine outpoints reason, and science is always suspect.

            Science—meaning climate science, environmental science not just

suspect, but deviously and conspicuously in opposition to culture.

 Critical thought is the province of degenerate intellectuals, who betray the culture and subvert traditional values.

            Climate change is a Chinese hoax.

The national identity is provided by the nation’s enemies.

            Donald Trump hates his nation’s enemies, foreigners, Muslims, Chicago

thugs, the media and anyone doubting his means and ends.

 Argument is tantamount to treason.

            Donald Trump shuttles the guilty to prison without trial. (Bo Bergdahl, the

Central Park Five, etc.)

Perpetually at war, the state must govern with the instruments of fear.

            Donald Trump and his minions demonize every opponent.

 Citizens do not act; they play the supporting role of “the people” in the grand opera that is the state.

            Donald Trump leads a “movement”, not a political party with ideals and goals.

Lapham’s essay goes on to show how in our modern “democracy” the descent to fascist tyranny doesn’t need the standard tools. “We don’t have to disturb, terrorize, or plunder the bourgeoisie; we don’t have to gag the press or seize the radio stations; we don’t have to murder the intelligentsia. Our atomized citizens, dormant or bored, don’t have the power to resist, the press is thoroughly demonized and disregarded, social media substitutes for the “masses”, and white identity politics (racism, misogyny etc.) substitutes for marching bands and uniting symbols. Anyone concerned about fascism lite should read the essays by David Frum and Jonathan Rausch. We in the resistance need to organize, speak out, and act. The end of civil society and its long-standing institutions (newspapers, schools, unions, bowling leagues, political parties, lodges, etc.) give men like Donald Trump and open door. Now is the time to stand up.