Donald Trump: a cruel fascist

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   US representatives can figure out what is going on. 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. 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.

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. 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.  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.

The roots of totalitarianism are not frozen in history. They may find a different expression in the present, but they are connected in all kinds of ways to the past. For instance, Trump’s demagoguery bears a close resemblance to the discourse characteristic of other fascist leaders. Trump’s use of fear-mongering and bombastic language is characterised by divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery characteristic of demagogues of the past. Moreover, Trump, like many past demagogues, presents himself as a prophet incapable of being wrong, disdains any sense of nuance and uses a militarised discourse populated by words such as “kill,” “destroy,” “attack” and “fight,” all of which display his infatuation with violence and deep disdain for dialogue, thoughtfulness and democracy itself. Trump is an anti-intellectual who distorts the truth even when proven wrong, and his appeals are emotive rather than based on facts, reason and evidence.

Trump and his ilk merge a hyper- nationalism, racism, economic fundamentalism and religious bigotry with a flagrant sense of lawlessness. His hate-filled speeches are matched by an unsettling embrace of violence against immigrants and other oppositional voices issued by his supporters at many of his rallies. This type of lawlessness does more than encourage hate and violent mob mentalities; it also legitimates the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that gives credibility to acts of violence against others.

This is not simply the behaviour of moral and political cowards; it is the toxic affirmation of the machineries of death we associate with fascism. Such acts point to a large climate of lawlessness in US society that makes it all the easier to ignore human rights, justice and democracy itself. We heard this same hatred in the words of Hitler, Mussolini, Pinochet and other demagogic orators who have ranted against Jews, communists and others alleged as “infidels.”

Trump’s recent call to bring back waterboarding and to support a torture regime far exceeds what might be called an act of stupidity or ignorance. We have heard this discourse before during the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s and later during the dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s. This is a discourse that betrays dark and treacherous secrets not simply about Trump, but also about the state of US culture and politics. Trump’s brutal racism, cruelty and Nazi-style policy recommendations are more than shocking; they are emblematic of totalitarianism’s hatred of liberalism, its call for racial purity, its embrace of violence, its disdain for weakness and its anti-intellectualism. This is the discourse of total terror. These elements of totalitarianism have become the new American normal. Totalitarianism is not simply a relic of the past. It lives on in new forms and it is just as terrifying and dangerous today as it was in the past. Mark Summer is right in arguing that the ghost of fascism runs through US society, indicating that fascist sympathies never went away and that the threat of fascism has to be taken seriously. Trump is not just an ethically dead aberration. Rather, he is the successor of a long line of fascists who shut down public debate, attempted to humiliate their opponents, endorsed violence as a response to dissent and criticised any public display of democratic principles. The United States has reached its endpoint with Trump, and his presence should be viewed as a stern warning of the nightmare to come. Trump is not an isolated figure in US politics; he is simply the most visible and popular expression of a number of extremists in the Republican Party who now view democracy as a liability. His discourse is of those extremists who have become cheerleaders for totalitarianism. Trump is not a straight talker, as some writers have wrongly claimed, or merely entertaining. As David Clark pointed out, that the frankness of Trump’s call for violence coupled with his unapologetic thirst for injustice position him as the “latest expression of a fascism that has poisoned political life throughout modernity”. He is unabashedly vicious because he is both an agent and a symptom of a barren political landscape in which viciousness goes insolently unhidden. Trump is a monster without a conscience, a politician with a toxic set of policies. He is the product of a form of finance capitalism and a long legacy of racism and violence in which conscience is put to sleep, democracy withers and public values are extinguished.

What must be acknowledged is that Trump is the most extreme visible expression of a new form of authoritarianism identified by the late political theorist, Sheldon Wolin. According to Wolin, all the elements are in place today for a contemporary form of authoritarianism, which he calls “inverted totalitarianism.”  Totalitarianism destroys everything that makes politics possible. It is both an ideological poison and a brutal mode of governance and control. It puts reason to sleep and destroys any viable elements of democracy. Trump reminds us of totalitarianism’s addiction to tyranny, its attachments to the machineries of death and its moral emptiness. The extremist fervor that Trump has stirred up should be a rallying cry for a struggle not simply against a crude and reactionary populism, but also against the tyranny of totalitarianism in its new and proto-fascist forms.

*Solly Rakgomo is a graduate student of International Relations. o have sufficient supply of electricity and water.

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