Fascism in Donald Trump’s United States

by Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | News Analysis –

trump nazi salute

Donald Trump’s blatant appeal to fascist ideology and policy considerations took a more barefaced and dangerous turn this week when he released a statement calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Trump qualified this racist appeal to voters’ fears about Muslims by stating that such a ban is necessary “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

When Trump proposed the ban at a rally at the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, his plan drew loud cheers from the crowd. Many critics have responded by making clear that Trump’s attempts to place a religious test on immigration and travel are unconstitutional. Others have expressed shock in the face of a proposal that violates the democratic ideals that have shaped US history. Fellow Republican Jeb Bush called Trump “unhinged.”

What almost none of the presidential candidates or mainstream political pundits have admitted, however, is not only that Trump’s comments form a discourse of hate, bigotry and exclusion, but also that such expressions of racism and fascism are resonating deeply in a landscape of US culture and politics crafted by 40 years of conservative counter-revolution. One of the few politicians to respond to Trump’s incendiary comments was former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who stated rightly that Donald Trump is a “fascist demagogue.”

This overtly fascistic turn also revealed itself in November when Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times investigative reporter living with a disability, at a rally in South Carolina. This contemptuous reference to Kovaleski’s physical disability was morally odious and painful to observe, but not in the least surprising: Trump is consistently a hatemonger and spreads his message without apology in almost every public encounter in which he finds himself. In this loathsome instance, Trump simply expanded his hate-filled discourse in a new direction, after having already established the deeply ingrained racism and sexism at the heart of his candidacy.

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Trump’s mockery of Kovaleski and his blatantly discriminatory policy proposals against Muslims are of a piece with his portrayal of Mexican immigrants as violent rapists and drug dealers, and with his calls for the United States to put Syrian refugees in detention centers and create a database to control them. These comments sound eerily close to SS leader Heinrich Himmler’s call for camps that held prisoners under orders of what the Nazis euphemistically called “protective custody. This fascist parallel only gains currency with Trump’s latest efforts to ban Muslims from the United States. To quote the Holocaust Encyclopedia:

In the earliest years of the Third Reich, various central, regional, and local authorities in Germany established concentration camps to detain political opponents of the regime, including German Communists, Socialists, trade unionists, and others from left and liberal political circles. In the spring of 1933, the SS established Dachau concentration camp, which came to serve as a model for an expanding and centralized concentration camp system under SS management.

Moreover, Trump’s hateful attitude toward people with disabilities points to an earlier element of Hitler’s program of genocide in which people with physical and mental disabilities were viewed as disposable because they allegedly undermined the Nazi notion of the “master race.” The demonization, objectification and pathologizing of people with disabilities was the first step in developing the foundation for the Nazis’ euthanasia program aimed at those declared unworthy of life. This lesson seems to be lost on the mainstream media, who largely viewed Trump’s despicable remarks toward people with disabilities as simply insulting.

What is truly alarming is how many corporate media figures and intellectuals are defending Trump, not realizing that his candidacy is rooted in the brutal seeds of totalitarianism being cultivated in US society. Trump represents more than the anti-democratic practices and antics of Joseph McCarthy; he illustrates how totalitarianism can take different forms in specific historical moments. Rather than being dismissed as a wild card in US politics, as “careless and undisciplined,” as some of his conservative supporters claim, or not a true member of the Republican Party as Ross Douthat has written in The New York Times, it is crucial to recognize that Trump’s popularity represents what Victor Wallis has described as a dangerous “political space … in both the wider culture and in recent history.” This is evident not only in his race-baiting, his crude comments about women and his call to round up and deport 11 million immigrants, but also in his increasing support for violence against protesters at his rallies.

There is a disturbing totalitarian message in his call to “make American great again” by any means necessary. The degree to which Trump expresses his support of violence, racism and the violation of civil liberties, visibly and without apology, is unprecedented in recent national political races. But the ideas he espouses have always been present under the surface of US politics, which is perhaps why the public and media on the whole seem unperturbed by such comments as: “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule … And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.” Trump’s call to do “the unthinkable” is a fundamental principle of any notion of totalitarianism, regardless of the form it takes.

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Reprinted with permission from Truthout