Trump And The Global Resurgence Of Fascism
Dr. Louie Dean Valencia-García is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right and Assistant Professor of Digital History at Texas State University.
It’s time we said it. We are living in a world in which fascism has not only become mainstream, but it is at war with our democratic institutions—from the inside. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, scholars and journalists have consistently tried to be careful about labeling something ‘fascist’. Mussolini’s fascist movement indeed was part of a particular historical moment and should be thought that way. Nazism was a gross and depraved ideology of its time. To differentiate then and now we have come up with terms like ‘neo-Nazi’, ‘far-right’, etc. In the past, I have even advocated to use terms like ‘fascistic’ and to identify ‘fascist tendencies’ to describe contemporary radical right ideologies.
During a live stream this week, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rightly identified the immigrant detention centers across the United States as ‘concentration camps’ and this presidency as ‘fascist’. Of course, right-wing commentators feel the need to reject this uncomfortable truth—to say such a comparison demeans the memory of the Holocaust. But does it really?
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We are living in a world where liberalism, capitalism, communism, anarchism, socialism, and authoritarianism all co-exist. With multitudes of variation, all of these ideas have survived their initial inceptions and definitions for at least a century, if not more. If these ‘-isms’ can endure and adapt to changing times, then why hasn’t fascism? The truth of the matter is that it has. The left has avoided labeling anything as fascist, perhaps out of respect for the tragedy of what the Holocaust was or because fascism became the unnameable evil. On the right, well, all liberals are fascists and advocates for women’s rights are Feminazis.
Perhaps we decided not to say the f-word because we thought by saying it, we would call it into being—like Voldemort. However, in not explicitly saying something was fascist, we missed the opportunity to both teach what fascism means and, more dangerously, gave ethno-nationalist movements and activists cover—and the ability to rebrand themselves.
Meanwhile, fascists were attempting to find names that either sound innocuous or weirdly hip. Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, once a veritable Brooklyn hipster, has founded a far-right group known as the ‘Proud Boys’ which is particularly concerned about the status of ‘western civilization’. ‘White nationalist’ Richard Spencer is the founder of the ‘Alt-Right’, calls himself an ‘Identitarian’, enjoys reading the works of the ‘New Right’, and runs the ‘National Policy Institute’. The once-fringe French ‘Front National’ is now ‘National Rally’. The transnational youth group ‘Generation Identity’ now prefers sleek neutral blues and white colors to the more ominous yellow and black color scheme when they rent helicopters and boats to search the mountains and the Mediterranean for refugees—to return them to their homelands.
The preppy American branch of the youth Identitarian movement recently changed its name from ‘Identity Evropa’ to the ‘American Identity Movement’. Pointedly, GQ has even said ‘there’s nothing controversial’ about calling US president Donald Trump’s senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller, a white nationalist. Miller even organized with Spencer at Duke University, where Spencer says he mentored Miller. Of course, some, like Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin, are calling their ideologies a new political theory altogether. This is late fascism.
Why This Is Modern Fascism
We call these movements and people ‘white nationalist’, ‘white supremacist’, ‘far-right’ and ‘radical right’—which they are. These subcategories are clarifying to better understand particularity. However, they all fall under the larger umbrella of fascism. More to the point, they are ‘late fascist’ movements—postwar fascism that has incorporated postmodern relativism, appropriated leftist discourse, and implemented irony and trendy aesthetics to disguise putrid fascist ideology that seemingly had been rejected writ-large after the Holocaust.
These movements decry the fall of western civilization, and see themselves in a Crusade against Islam, immigrants, globalism and so-called ‘identity politics’ and ‘multiculturalism’. They believe in a conspiracy known as ‘the great replacement’—labeling it ‘white genocide’. All of this is thinly-veiled coded language to say they don’t want people of color, Jews, Muslims, women and queer people to find equality, because they are afraid of losing power. They dislike global capitalism because they see it as a Jewish conspiracy, not because of the actual failings of late capitalism as an economic model.
The United States and European media resist calling Donald Trump fascist, explicitly: ‘Mr Trump is not a fascist, if by that you mean a successor to Mussolini or Hitler’. Of course, that isn’t the definition of fascism—Hitler and Mussolini were two early twentieth century manifestations of fascism. Curiously, major US and European news sources frequently describe politicians in Europe as ‘far-right’, but despite Trump calling himself a nationalist, recognizing the disfavor of that term and advocating for its return, by and large most media exculpates Trump from being called radical right, or fascist for that matter, suggesting he merely confuses nationalism and patriotism.
This refusal to label Trump, or the likes of Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, as part of a late fascist wave is, in fact, enabling and also a potential sign that we don’t want to admit that at least one branch of the United States government has fallen into fascist ideology. There is a cognitive dissonance in saying American or European democracies have democratically become fascist.
Recently, Ocasio-Cortez questioned FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Michael McGarrity, eliciting him to specifically state that the under current federal law the US Congress did not categorize white nationalism as domestic terrorism. She argued we have seen ‘white supremacist attacks that were clearly domestic terrorism’. Despite this assertion, ABC News reporter Mike Levine claimed, ‘Ocasio-Cortez appeared to be confusing two different types of FBI cases’, insisting ‘None of the perpetrators in those ISIS-inspired cases was designated or charged as a “domestic terrorist.” Instead, they were each designated and charged as a “homegrown violent extremist,” which may sound like a “domestic terrorist” but is actually quite different, at least to the FBI’.
Levine simply did not understand that what Ocasio-Cortez was arguing for is precisely a change in the way the category of ‘domestic terrorism’ is defined. As a representative, it is her job to question and challenge existing laws and their definitions and to propose more effective laws. In fact, what Ocasio-Cortez elucidates is that her peers in Congress need to change the category of what is defined as terrorism. Levine incorrectly portrayed Ocasio-Cortez as not understanding those categories when, in fact, she was pointing out the very need for a change in categories. Understanding how we define categories is essential to most effectively combat fascism.
Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, has stated, ‘The question — “Is Trump a fascist?” — is to me a less interesting and less relevant question than ‘why Trump’s message resonated so much that he won in 2016, and why he may well win again.’ Another relevant question might be: if President Trump’s attacks on the press, persecuting ethnic and religious minorities, undermining of the rule of law, and other undemocratic behavior isn’t fascism, then what is? To be sure, passing the day arguing point by point whether or not Trump is a fascist is banal. What is important is that we understand why Trump, and others like him, won and continue to make strides forward.
To understand this, we have to think of it not as a political trend, but as part of what is clearly becoming a part of an emerging ideology that can and should be described as late fascism—a fascism for our current era. Stanley argues:
‘The Trump presidency is a violent response to more than two centuries of struggle for human rights and dignity. When Trump speaks of making America great again, we know what many of his most passionate supporters hear. They want white supremacy to be not just the reality, but the official policy’.
One of the major constitutive factors of fascism is, of course, its willingness to engage in violence. At least one historian, Timothy Snyder, has called Trump and his tactics fascist. Historians often look for violence as a defining characteristic of fascism. Are immigrant concentration camps not enough? What about violent domestic terrorism by the radical right? What about attacks on black churches, Jewish temples and Muslim mosques in the US and abroad? The German government even cautioned Jews about wearing the kippah, or skullcap, in the country because of rising anti-Semitism. And what about unpunished police violence in the US against people of color? There are continual legal attacks on women and queer people. Trump has promised beginning next week ‘ICE will begin the process of removing… millions of illegal aliens’—what rings too much of a Kristallnacht-level event, when Hitler’s SA forces arrested some 30,000 Jews, taking them to concentration camps. Trump’s statement all but guarantees the harassment of people of color across the United States.
Fascism, in all its ugliness, is all around us—and those with some modicum of distance—privilege—can still go to our local Starbucks and participate in a capitalist economy without worry. Ideologies and economic systems aren’t exclusive—they can, and do, co-exist and overlap. We are living in a world where we are constantly clashing with fascism.
Cas Mudde rightly argues in the wake of the recent European elections that ‘populist radical right, in particular, has become mainstreamed and normalized’. Mudde continues, ‘We find it normal that a neo-Nazi party is the third biggest party in a member state, that a populist radical right wins more than half of the vote in non-democratic elections, and that the populist radical right is the biggest party in several EU member states’. Despite this, Deutsche Welle reports ‘No new dawn for far right in European election’.
On the contrary, the election results show considerable normalization of fascism and its stronghold on normal politics. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party actually won more votes than Emmanuel Macron’s party coalition. Matteo Salvini’s Northern League had a victory with 34% of the vote. Viktor Orbán in Hungry had 52% of the vote. The Brexit Party party had 30% of the vote. In Spain, already, the Vox party had won 24 parliamentary seats in the Spanish elections in April—this problem is not going away until we can at least name it.
Sometimes, if you give the monster under the bed a name, it doesn’t make it go away, but it at least lets us know what you are dealing with and how you can confront it. The problem is fascism taking hold of national governments and politics, and we actually do know how to deal with it. First, we need to change the narrative and call it by its name.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.
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