He was the real thing- a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family… [His] spirit will be with us for the rest of our lives- whether you’re me or Bill Clinton or you or Kurt Cobain or Bishop Tutu or Keith Richards or Amy Fisher or Boris Yeltsin’s daughter or your fiancee’s 16-year-old beer-drunk brother with his braided goatee and his whole life like a thundercloud out in front of him. This is not a generational thing. You don’t even have to know who…[he] was to be a victim of his ugly, Nazi spirit. –Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Does Dr. Gonzo seem to be commenting from beyond the grave about a certain presidential candidate?
No doubt exists for me that Donald Trump is an obnoxious, loudmouthed bigot with nothing good to offer now that Mike Pence has gotten him to sell out and take up neoclassical policy points like privatizing Social Security. But he is also not a fascist, he is a populist showman who strings into sentences headlines from AntiWar.com and RT and who probably does not understand fascism as anything other than something he heard Ron Paul say. Indeed, he and Jesse Ventura distanced themselves years ago from the Reform Party over David Duke, who is a genuine fascist.
Would human rights suffer setbacks under a Trump presidency?
Not as bad as they have under Obama, who took the policies George W. Bush was protested vigorously over and expanded them exponentially with nary a peep from the Democratic base. Providence’s anti-war movement today is made up of an inter-connected group of Greens, Catholic Workers, Quakers and not much else. Indeed, the Occupy movement and Bernie Sanders were focused on domestic ravages of neoliberalism, which is a nice way of saying it was all very selfish.
Were there people at Occupy taking on empire and racism? I have no doubt of that fact, mostly because I witnessed such discussions. But I also witnessed the eyes begin to glaze and the drum circles grow larger as we went outside of the realm of the domestic 99%. It was a sad fact that warfare on behalf of the 1% just could not be boiled down to a slogan in an apolitical forum like that, it would not be until the protests in Missouri were called the Ferguson intifada that a geopolitical critique would emerge.
I do not necessarily begrudge this fact, self-interest and preservation in the face of certain danger presented by the political economy of the day has defined radicalism in America for over a century. The rare exceptions to this would be personified by someone like Gore Vidal.
But with this in mind, we also need to understand this rule also applies to the Trump base, a populist right movement populated by those who were burned by neoliberalism over the past quarter century. There are some genuinely fascistic people in that crowd, such as Duke, who is now jumping into politics again because of the Donald, but that is not the majority, just like the majority of Sandernistas were not socialists.
But we are presented with a bizarre phenomenon. Consider the recent words of Margaret Kimberley: Neo-liberalism is fascism and it is causing tremendous suffering around the world. It will exist whether Trump is president of the United States or not.
Perhaps we should therefore describe neoliberalism as a sort of passive authoritarian fascist political economy. This logic can be referred back to Erich Fromm, who wrote in 1957:
The passive-authoritarian, or in other words, the masochistic and submissive character aims- at least subconsciously- to become a part of a larger unit, a pendant, a particle, at least a small one, of this “great” person, this “great” institution, or this “great” idea. The person, institution, or idea may actually be significant, powerful, or just incredibly inflated by the individual believing in them. What is necessary, is that- in a subjective manner- the individual is convinced that “his” leader, party, state, or idea is all-powerful and supreme, that he himself is strong and great, that he is a part of something “greater.” The paradox of this passive form of the authoritarian character is: the individual belittles himself so that he can- as part of something greater- become great himself… All the great dictatorial movements of our times were (and are) based on irrational authority. Its driving forces were the submissive individual’s feeling of powerlessness, fear, and admiration for the “leader.”
A pwogwessive will now reply and say that this describes the Trump following to a precise degree.
But I counter that this also, with much greater accuracy, describes the neoliberal identity political leaders Obama and Hillary Clinton. There was and is almost nothing in their personal or professional histories to merit respect and admiration from anyone but the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Any and all reverence shown to these and other Democratic Party leaders is fundamentally irrational.
Indeed, the ascendancy of Obama, which can only be traced back to the fact he could speak coherent sentences at a time when the Oval Office was occupied by a man who seemed to be reciting a dyslexic version of Dr. Seuss, bears all the markings Fromm pointed out. Furthermore, his actions while in office also seem to be described by the philosopher:
The fact that both forms of the authoritarian personality can be traced back to one final common point- the symbiotic tendency- demonstrates why one can find both the sadistic and masochistic component in so many authoritarian personalities. Usually, only the objects differ. We all have heard of the family tyrant, who treats his wife and children in a sadistic manner but when he faces his superior in the office he becomes the submissive employee.
While it is impossible to try to speculate about how Obama interacts with his family in the residence at the White House, this passage succeeds if we substitute ‘wife and children’ for ‘black and brown-majority audiences’. The President always was paternalistic towards them, perhaps due at the outset to the fact people worshiped him in a way that small children worship their parents regardless of how abusive that parent actually is.
And in that sense, Obama was sadistic towards these audiences, hectoring and lecturing them on a regular basis about responsibility and personal shortcomings while simultaneously seeming to almost revel in the submission he exhibited towards Wall Street bankers, Benjamin Netanyahu, or the intransigent and publicly contemptuous Republican Party.
But imagine now if Trump loses, perhaps via some gerrymandering that has just been brought to light via WikiLeaks?
His followers are not dumb, they are watching RT often, perhaps sometimes through the lens of that demented gravel-voiced monstrosity Alex Jones. Indeed, the populist upsurge expressed in the candidacies of Trump and Sanders holds a surprising number of similar positions when it comes to foreign policy and some domestic policies, though many of their methodologies are vastly different, and as a result they see the duopoly as irreparable.
We are talking about a population that has been mobilized, enfranchised, and stoked up for the last quarter century with a fear and loathing of Hillary Clinton by talk radio and Fox News that is at a fever-pitch. They are vulnerable, mad as hell, and the last thing they need is a dialectical inversion of the 2000 election pulled on their candidate.
One of the odd things that has happened this year is when Juan Gonzalez, who really didn’t know how wise he was being when he said it, lectured the Sanders supporters about how his generation was partly to blame for the ascent of Richard Nixon. It bears mentioning here that, while Nixon was not a proto-Libertarian like Barry Goldwater, they still said aloud “Only Nixon could go to China”, meaning that if anyone other than he had tried to ease tensions with the Communist bloc, Tricky Dick would have red baited the living hell out of them. Jeff St. Clair was most adamant about this, at one point exclaiming that, if Humphrey had won, we would still be bombing the Indochinese Peninsula!
It was Congressman Nixon who did the most damage to the New Deal, exiting stage right just as Joe McCarthy reached that super-nova stage of witch hunting and said the Army was full of reds. But prior to that exit, Nixon had succeeded in getting on the Eisenhower presidential ticket through his strange success in claiming New Deal functionary Alger Hiss was a Communist, a YUGE, Trump-like publicity stunt that, no word of a lie, had America believing Russian spies were hiding stolen classified government documents in pumpkins! (He always fancied himself Cinderella.)
Nobody but the most lunatic fringe today will try to say that McCarthy was onto something. But if I look at the back of the hardback copy of Sam Tanenhaus’s 1997 biography of Nixon’s manic depressive self-hating homophobic stool pigeon Whittaker Chambers, I see an endorsement from none other than John Kenneth Galbraith, the don of Keynesian economic policy in every Democratic administration from Roosevelt to Johnson! Keep in mind, David Levin previously pointed out that Tanenhaus intentionally misrepresents quotes to build his case that a Democratic administration’s functionary was a spy, thereby saying that the New Deal itself must be dismantled so to prevent the spread of Communism. Yet Hiss is still called a Communist and our social safety net is set upon by neoclassical economic pillaging as a result.
In terms of his foreign policy, Nixon was a vicious beast who was best eulogized when Hunter Thompson said “His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”
But due in no small part to an election year that seemed to be straight out of hell and a massive populist upsurge, he ended up being our last genuinely liberal president, endorsing the Equal Rights Amendment, passing the Clean Air and Water Acts, brokering detente with Russia, recognizing China, appointing two Supreme Court justices that ruled in favor of women in Roe v. Wade, and so many more things a Democrat would have never done in his position, in part due to fear from right wing red baiting.
This is because the public refused to grant Nixon the adulation and child-like worship that has been shown Democrats on a regular basis for decades. As a result, he famously looked out the window of the White House with Kissinger at protesters and said in complete horror “Henry, they are coming for us!”
Nixon did not know Fromm’s work (as far as I know) but he did understand this adulation dynamic and obsessed over it to a quasi-sexual degree, only the signifier for this neurosis was named ‘Jack Kennedy’. He would spend hours on end ruminating about why his opponent in the 1960 election got a pass from progressives for enacting policies that were from the beginning to the right of the GOP, going back to their televised presidential debates where the Senator actually was able to red bait Vice President Nixon over the Eisenhower Cuba policy.
If it would seem I am embracing some apocalyptic vision of class warfare, perish the thought, I do not wish any bigot upon people of color. But the fact is that the Democrats are merely more duplicitous and sociopathic about enacting the same policy measures Trump advocates out loud.
For Trump’s proposal to construct a wall at the Mexican border, I reply with the fact that Obama’s administration has effectively run the border between Mexico and the United States in a fashion not unlike how they administer the DMZ that divides the Korean peninsula.
For all this liberal banter about how Trump promises to deport Mexicans, Obama actually did just that at the beginning of 2016.
And in spite of their paroxysms about the harm Trump promises for Muslims, these same progressives and liberals were totally silent while Obama tortured Muslims in Guantanamo, indiscriminately bombed them with drones in western Eurasia, profiled and monitored them domestically without warrant via the NSA, and armed their killers via cluster bomb sales to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Is this some kind of perverse joke? A Clinton victory would continue these awful neoliberal fascist policies. Whatever harm befalls white liberals at the hands of Trump who did not take on Obama will be a case of divine justice for their timidity, shallowness, and cowardice in the face of vicious neoliberal violence at home and abroad because the perpetrator was black.
Simultaneously, the defeated Trump base will be loosed on the countryside, infuriated and thirsting for revenge. Their grievances, which are genuine in terms of victimization by neoliberalism, will be quite accessible for future politicians to speak to.
And what comes after a Trump defeat will be a fascist movement. Whether it will be David Duke, who is a bit of a mess, or perhaps a hipster ‘alt-right’ figure like the gay monster Milo Yiannopoulos, they will be open and active authoritarians embracing fascist political economy.
Fromm tells us:
[W]hat defines the essence of the authoritarian personality is an inability: the inability to rely on one’s self, to be independent, to put it in other words: to endure freedom. The opposite of the authoritarian character is the mature person: a person who does not need to cling to others because he actively embraces and grasps the world, the people, and the things around him… Love is the bond and the feeling of being one with the world while keeping one’s own independence and integrity. The loving individual is connected with the world. He is not frightened since the world is his home. He can lose himself because he is certain of himself.
Perhaps here it bears recalling that quote “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality”?
Fromm leaves us with similar words of hope that carry much value as the Democrats yet again enter into paroxysms over the Green Party and its presidential bid:
But I do not want to close without emphasizing that the individual’s goal must be to become his own authority; i.e. to have a consciousness in moral issues, conviction in questions of intellect, and fidelity in emotional matters. However, the individual can only have such an inner authority if he has matured enough to understand the world with reason and love. The development of these characteristics is the basis for one’s own authority and therefore the basis for political democracy. [Emphasis added]
This describes perfectly what this populist upsurge is capable of. Whether an overt fascist will emerge on the right and a genuine socialist movement that embraces the Greens and perhaps other parties is still to be determined. My hope is for the emergence of a multi-party democracy in 2018, but that entails great risks as well as rewards.
But should he lose, Trump’s supporters will be angry.
They will be mobilized.
And they will be back.
How’s that for a lesser evil?