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Is Trump a Mussolini-style fascist? Even though they look remarkably alike when posing from a balcony, chins up in the air, I think not. The Italian dictator was well-read and driven by political philosophy, as well as naked ambition. Trump has the ambition, but no real philosophy: he’s just a talented con man.
The 45th President of the United States is a narcissistic megalomaniac who has “made a deal” with the far right. Steve Bannon, Opus Dei, and evangelical leaders whisper sweetly in his ear, “You are doing God’s work; you are the chosen one.” He is a useful vessel and a delusional fool.
Trump may be a buffoon, but the forces behind him are serious.
Many developments are driving a section of American elites toward a more overtly coercive and racist state: the pandemic and the depression that it’s triggered, massive inequality and the growing awakening of American workers, the power of African American resistance to systemic racism and the broad support it has received, and China’s rise as a world economic power. This section of the elite has been ascendant because “liberal” American capitalism is out of solutions. Had it not for the pandemic, Trump could be headed back to the White House. One can’t rule out that he still might.
Obama’s economic policies favored Wall St. and produced great income inequality. Desperation and frustration created conditions for strengthening fascist and racist ideas in segments of the working class and rural poor.
It tilled the soil for Trump.
So, if Biden is elected and continues Clinton-Obama-era pro-banker economic policies, he will set the table for a more dangerous version of Trump in 2024. Only a mass movement infused with a progressive vision can stop this from happening.
The oligarchy is aghast at the success of the Sanders campaign and the wave of progressives recently elected to office. They fear increasing public support for socialized solutions like Medicare for All, publicly owned banks, community control of the police, and a growing consciousness that some form of socialism is a viable alternative.
Trump frames his campaign as a fight against socialism not only to invoke the ghosts of Cold War anti-communism for what he hopes is electoral gain. It’s also a recognition by the ideologues that guide him that public opinion must be prepared for a severe attack on the Left.
If Trump wins, a McCarthyite witch hunt and a campaign of political repression are almost assured.
If Trump wins, the consequences for the climate crisis will be catastrophic.
The consolidation of a further far-right control of the state apparatus, including the courts and military, will set the people’s movement back years.
The corporate Democrats think they can contain progressive forces; the Trump Republicans believe they should be crushed.
This election isn’t just about choosing the lesser evil; it’s about choosing a more advantageous field upon which to wage battle. Without creating illusions about who Biden represents, the Left should vote for him for President and support progressives in down-ballot races.
Trump needs to lose, and he needs to lose big.
While the far-right form of fascism is exceptionally dangerous, it has developed within an “acceptable” form of fascism that’s been evolving for decades right before our eyes.
The concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a small number of billionaires and financial corporations and the control of government by these forces, is FDR’s definition of fascism. This process is so woven into the fabric of American life it’s considered normal. You are deemed naïve if you think anything else is possible.
This “mainstream fascism” has been developing in America for some time. Here’s how Franklin D. Roosevelt defined it in his 1938 Message to Congress on Curbing Monopolies:
“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power . . . Among us today, a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing . . . And industrial empire building, unfortunately, has evolved into banker control of industry. We oppose that.”
American democracy was born as a state that defended the interests of the property-owning class (including the owning of African slaves). There is now real democracy for the ownership class, and a certain amount of formal democracy for working people, which can be withdrawn or curbed when necessary. For example, machine guns used against striking workers, or FBI infiltration, disruption, and assassination plots against black activists and progressive anti-war and socialist leaders.
During the 1930’s Depression, FDR was fighting a weakening of government’s role in defending the property owners as a class, and the private property system itself, against the banking sector, a specific private power within that class. FDR was fighting European style fascism coming to power in the United States, and there was plenty of support amongst the elites for exactly that (Hitler’s friend Henry Ford for one).
FDR won that fight. He didn’t win the fight to restrain the banks.
The finance sector has now completely enveloped the economy. The integration of government under the power of finance is almost absolute. This has taken place under Republican and Democratic administrations.
Most Rich People Don’t Want Dictatorship
The forces behind Trump, sections of the fossil fuel and arms industries, religious extremists, far-right billionaires, are malignant tumors that are products of an underlying systemic cancer. Sections of the working class are influenced by false hope, religious values, feelings of white supremacy, and a justified cynicism after failures of liberals to deliver the change that was promised.
This fascism threatens “democratic” institutions like elections and courts that liberal capitalism requires to settle conflicts amongst the elites without fighting another civil war. It gives workers a sense that the system is fair, even if it isn’t. There is a need to make the power of the state appear “equal in the eyes of the law,” even though its prime purpose is to enforce laws that perpetuate chronic poverty, low wages, and defend monopoly interest.
The destruction of these liberal democratic institutions, the move to an overt despotism especially in the hands of someone as unhinged as Trump, is not in the interests of the majority of the elites. They need their institutions to have “credibility.”
It’s not that this doesn’t matter to ordinary people. Institutions like elections, due process, public education, Medicare and Social Security, and so on, matter even though they have been weakened over the years. They are worth fighting for. But without a strong people’s movement, they will become so impotent they will lose what remains of their democratic character.
So why do I use the word fascism if there are still liberal democratic institutions? I could use authoritarian, but I don’t think it’s specific or strong enough. Fascistization is a process, it has its extreme forms like a Hitler or Mussolini, but these movements do not drop out of the sky. They are the products of capitalism in crisis. The forces Trump represents are not as extreme as those that emerged in Europe, but as the economic crisis deepens, they will become more dangerous.
How long these “democratic” institutions last given the current Supreme Court is a real question. Will Biden add members to the court and put some brakes on the process? Maybe, but not without immense pressure from a people’s movement. If Trump wins, it’s a moot point.
I hear the voice of Chuck Schumer in my head yelling, who do you think holds back the barbarian hordes? It’s people like me! That’s the irony. The Democratic Party and the sections of finance that support it are the main force that has the capacity of holding back the far right, even as their economic policies facilitate its growth. Both games in the end serve finance.
Could we see an outright police state in the U.S.A.? It can’t be ruled out. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson has said we are only one serious terrorist attack, real or staged, away from martial law and the end of what’s left of constitutional rights.
Just imagine what happens when the southern hemisphere becomes mostly unlivable as a result of the climate crisis, and millions of people are forced to head north.
I don’t think it’s inevitable we will end up with a full-fledged fascist state in the U.S. I do think without a powerful people’s movement, we will. We need a sense of urgency about building a broad front for effective action on climate and against fascism.
Most of the elites do not want to live under an outright dictatorship. But they are in denial of an obvious fact; the economic policies they support are leading them there.
Fascistization and Financialization Can’t be Separated
In the same 1938 speech, Roosevelt says:
“The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living”.
FDR is telling capitalists that if you don’t allow workers to have a sustainable standard of living, they could choose to “sacrifice liberty so they can get something to eat.” They will choose authoritarianism, and that’s just what many did in 2016 when, under the Obama administration, Wall St. ran the economic policy, and most of the income gains after the 2007 recession went to the top 1% of the population.
Finance is even more parasitical now than before the ’29 crash. Big Banks make massive profits from speculation, deliberately complicated derivative products, stock buybacks, and debt, then raid the public treasury when things don’t work out. It needs the control of government to prevent regulations that might curtail its dangerous investments. The process of fascistization and financialization can’t be separated. Big Banks impose their relentless drive for short term, financialized profits on the whole economy. Finance requires a powerful coercive state to impose its will.
Trump’s reckless denial about the pandemic was enabled by most leaders of major corporations who so loved Trump’s tax cuts they stayed quiet about his insane COVID policy. Of course, again the Fed jumped in to save t heir ass(ets).
The more finance degenerates into what often amounts to criminal activity, forging signatures on phony mortgage documents or hiding wealth offshore to avoid taxes, the more it needs its political representatives to descend to the same levels of corruption. The “swamp” is an inherent part of a system of ownership where, as FDR said, there is a “concentration of private power without equal in history.”
After Me Comes the Floods
The oligarchy has never been so rich and powerful. Yet, they are so focused on their short-term wealth orgy, they can’t even defend the system that made them “successful”. The United States, the center and manager of global capitalism, is faced with existential threats as the political system is in chaos.
Billionaires are either in denial of the climate crisis, or pay lip service, offering up ineffective solutions, putting their eggs in unproven technology. They are hoping that at the last moment, some miraculous carbon capture and geoengineering feat will save them. It won’t.
Some billionaires take the climate and fascist threat seriously, but most are preoccupied with how they can make money out of the pandemic and the climate crisis. They think “après moi, le dèluge,” after me come the floods as King Louis the XV said as France collapsed in 1757.
Most of the elites are not only in climate change denial, they are in nuclear war denial. The danger of accidental nuclear war has never been greater, and a Trump administration makes it even more terrifying. The man is a lunatic. One has to take seriously the stories told by Trump’s family members and former close associates. “The pandemic has turned a corner”. He says, “I am the least racist person in the room”. He clearly believes his own lies.
The danger of a nuclear apocalypse is even more threatening with a president that thinks the use of tactical nuclear weapons is worth considering, and arms treaties are just an unnecessary inconvenience. Let’s not forget some of Trump’s supporters would welcome Armageddon.
Based on the threat of nuclear war alone, Trump must be defeated in this election.
Should the Left Vote for Biden?
Is there a difference that matters between the two parties? I think so.
- Biden’s acknowledgment of the climate crisis at least creates space for a debate about effective solutions, even if what he’s proposing is not. The climate imperative overrides all other considerations.
- The Democrats are reliant on the more progressive and educated urban centers and the Black and Latinx vote. It’s a progressive pressure on the party.
- The corporate Dems represent a section of capital that sees that a certain amount of compromise with American workers is more profitable in the long run. Not an FDR New Deal compromise, but less intense exploitation and austerity than the Republicans. It’s a difference in quantity, but not without significance to the daily life of workers.
- The Republicans and their backers believe in disciplining the working class, meaning people willing to work without unions and for starvation wages. This is why many Republicans don’t want another stimulus package. Desperate workers are good for business.
- The Democrats need union support to win elections. Republicans would like unions to be even weaker.
- The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is gaining strength. The Trump fascists have taken control of the Republican Party. Devoured it as one former GOP member told me.
- The Dems are less likely to use violent repression against the people. Less, but not never. J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI’s attack on the Left under every President from 1924 to 1972. That said, the recent Black Lives Matter protests do show a difference in approach by the Democrats compared to Trump’s use of the military, calls to dominate protestors, and lock them up for years.
A Less Reckless Foreign Policy?
While Biden’s foreign policy is dressed up in talk of a renewed multilateralism and American “leadership,” his thinking is rooted in the Cold War and the need for maintaining America as the global policeman and hegemon.
Biden’s bellicose rhetoric against China differs from Trump’s only in the choice of words. It’s dangerous. That said, Biden will not be as rash as Trump might be, less likely to launch a provocation in the South China Sea or over Taiwan. Let’s not forget that Steve Bannon, who is still in Trump’s ear, has called for military confrontation in the South China Sea. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson told me several war games he participated in all playing out a military confrontation in the South China Sea all ended in nuclear war and the game had to be canceled.
Biden voted for the Iraq War and then said he was wrong to do so. The fact is, he succumbed to political pressures.
Trump claims he opposed the invasion, but it’s not true. He called for seizing Iraqi oil and was unhappy the U.S. didn’t do it. After his inauguration in 2017, speaking to the CIA, he said the U.S. might have another chance to “keep the oil.”
It’s been reported Biden argued against Hillary Clinton’s push to invade Libya.
Despite Trump’s later claims to the contrary, he supported the invasion of Libya and called for a substantial commitment of U.S. troops – to be paid for with Libyan oil.
Trump unilaterally ended the Iran nuclear deal and imposed sanctions that amount to an economic war, creating untold suffering for the Iranian people during the pandemic.
Biden fought for the Iran nuclear deal, which is important, as he is likely to reinstate it. A war against Iran will unleash the gates of hell, and Trump is surrounded by hawks and his Saudi and Israeli allies who want regime change in Iran.
In other words, Biden does not promise a progressive foreign policy, but his record suggests he’ll be less reckless than Trump. Some Democrats in Congress will provide a break on pressures for new military adventures. More progressives are likely to be elected to the House, which will give an anti-war position more voice.
These are all reasons why the Left should vote for Biden.
A Meeting in Yankee Field
Trump is the buffoon tip of a more coherent fascist spear. Four more years of his “law and order” are perilous. As the pandemic continues and the economic crisis deepens, unemployment will rise. The attacks on workers’ living standards will be more brutal, and racists and Nazis will be emboldened.
People will protest and organize to resist. A significant upsurge in the people’s movement is likely. The FBI, police, and other state agencies will target the Left and socialists that Trump rails against.
What’s left of the institutions of formal democracy will further erode, and the process of fascistization will accelerate.
Historian Gerald Horne quipped the Left could be meeting up on the fields of Yankee Stadium, harkening back to the days of the coup in Chile, where thousands of progressives were rounded up. Many were killed. It may seem far-fetched, but Hitler rose from obscurity to Fuhrer in less than ten years.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson has said we are one serious terrorist attack, real or staged, away from martial law and the end of what’s left of constitutional rights.
In 1919, the U.S. deported left-wing citizens whose politics the government didn’t like. Trump was mentored by Roy Cohn, an architect of McCarthy’s campaign to purge the unions of left-wing leaders. COINTELPRO was an FBI plot to attack and kill progressive black leaders and undermine leftwing organizations in the ’60s.
I’m not saying it can’t happen under a Biden administration, but it’s less likely, and won’t be as vicious as under a second Trump term.
Diversified Public Ownership Fights Fascistization
If there is to be a serious fight against fascistization, it must include developing public ownership, starting with the banks. FDR saw the need for public ownership if anti-trust laws didn’t work. In the 1938 speech he said:
“The power of a few to manage the economic life of the nation must be diffused among the many or be transferred to the public and its democratically responsible government. If prices are to be managed and administered, if the nation’s business is to be allotted by plan and not by competition, that power should not be vested in any private group or cartel, however benevolent its professions profess to be.
Those people, in and out of the halls of government, who encourage the growing restriction of competition either by active efforts or by passive resistance to sincere attempts to change the trend, are shouldering a terrific responsibility. Consciously, or unconsciously, they are working for centralized business and financial control. Consciously or unconsciously, they are, therefore either working for control of the government itself by business and finance or the other alternative- a growing concentration of public power in the government to cope with such concentration of private power.
The enforcement of free competition is the least regulation business can expect.”
FDR believed anti-trust legislation and regulation would contain monopolization and the power of Big Banks. It didn’t.
We need a “growing concentration of public power in the government to cope with such concentration of private power.” That public ownership must be “diffused among the many”, which means ownership at the level of states, cities, regions, federal when scale is necessary, but in all cases with some form of democratic control. Without such diverse forms of ownership, the concentration of public ownership could be as dangerous as private.
Advances in computerization and artificial intelligence make such planning possible, something that was impossible with a pencil and paper.
Breaking up the Big Banks is a good strategy, but it only achieves its objective if it takes place as a public banking system is created.
The process starts with purging The Federal Reserve Boards of their private banking directors and democratizing the process of choosing directors. Perhaps appointments should be confirmed by the House, not the Senate. The Fed can then fund the development of public banks.
The public banking system created needs to be on a large scale so the government can tell the “too big to fail” banks, they are no longer that big. If their speculation leads to failure, then no more public bailouts.
A public banking system would make investments in a green economy a priority.
No doubt this objective does not get realized in the near term, and I have zero expectation a Biden administration on its own, would entertain the idea.
I think the movement needs a vision and a plan, so the next time banks crash, instead of bailing them out, the people demand they are taken over. There was serious talk about nationalizing a few banks in 2007, so this isn’t as outlandish as it might sound. The banks only survive today because of public money flowing into their coffers.
One thing is for sure, to fight growing fascism, the power of finance over the government has to be broken.
A Transformative New Deal or a New Fascism
Only a people’s movement, a broad popular front outside the Democratic Party, can prevent the rise of fascism and face up to the climate crisis. We have to figure out what’s holding the development of such a front back. I hope theAnalysis.news can be a place where this gets discussed and worked out.
The work of progressives working in the Democratic Party is essential, especially the elected members at every level of government. Their work, together with a popular front, may help create conditions for a new party.
I think it naïve to think it’s possible to create a new party disconnected from the process going on in the Democratic Party. It’s a product of the undemocratic character of the system that it’s so difficult to do, but as they say, it is, what it is.
A new party could gain strength at local and state levels, and this is already happening. Or in non-swing states in presidential elections at times, but a third party that in any way facilitates a victory of Trump will never recover from it. Let’s be realistic about what’s possible living in the heart of the empire.
If Biden wins, the tactical truce between progressives and the corporate Dems will end and another stage of struggle will begin. As I said above, if a popular movement doesn’t win that fight, or at least score some important victories, we will likely see worse than Trump in 2024. The idea that workers that vote for Trump want a centrist Democratic Party is wrong. They want their lives to get better.
There are a few wealthy individuals that take the climate and fascist threat seriously. They need to play an important role if we are to survive this.
The heart of the movement must be workers whose ability to strike is still a powerful weapon. The fight to reform and encourage a more class-conscious agenda in the unions is critical.
We should have no illusions about Biden. He is a politician created and nurtured by finance, as are most of the Democratic Party leaders. This isn’t a fight for the “soul” of the Democratic Party. It never was a worker’s party and never will be. As AOC said recently, in most other countries she and Biden wouldn’t be in the same party. Eventually, there does need to be a new party when the conditions for it exist.
At this time, a Biden administration is a better field of battle for the people’s forces. Trump and his fascist movement must be defeated. We must cut out the malignant tumor and fight the underlying disease.
Paul Jay is the founder and host of www.theAnalysis.news, a journalist and filmmaker.