Laura Ingraham gives a Nazi salute at the Republican National Convention // Bloomberg
Comparisons to Adolf Hitler are dime a dozen in the contemporary political climate. Bush is Hitler. Obama is Hitler. Angela Merkel is Hitler. These comparisons often cheapen the argument being made, have no real basis in reality (many of history’s ratbags are frightful, but not architects of genocide), and do nothing to further the discussion at hand.
At least, that used to be my view, but since the current election cycle in the U.S. began, I fear that the comparison may be rapidly becoming accurate. At first, I too laughed at the Donald Trump campaign. Like Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, I regarded Trump to be an inept and bumbling outsider who was going to do nothing to transform the political landscape of the Republican Party, let alone the country at large. ‘Sure’, I thought, ‘he says awful things, but nobody’s really going to take him seriously once the campaigns get down to brass tacks, and I doubt he believes half the stuff he says anyway’. How wrong I was. How wrong we all were.
If the experiences of Laurie Penny are anything to go by, this year’s Republican National Convention was an opportunity for fascists and, dare I say it, neo-Nazis, to band together. Such contemptible figures as Daryush Valizadeh and Milo Yiannopoulos can do little on their own, but in greater numbers, their rhetoric translates into calls for violence. Indeed, Yiannopoulos was recently banned from Twitter after he helped to lead a merry band of white supremacists to direct a hate campaign against Leslie Jones for her role in the new Ghostbusters movie. This is the consequence of allowing fascists to speak freely.
Alone, they can do little but pout on the internet. In numbers, they can drive people off Twitter. But with a leader? That’s when the real nightmare begins.
There have been early signs that Trump was becoming such a leader of the American fascist movement. For instance, he has retweeted a quote from Mussolini, as well as a racist and inaccurate crime infographic, and has been endorsed by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. But at the RNC, he openly and clearly declared himself the leader of this movement, in an acceptance speech full of lies and dogged by aggressive rhetoric.
In this speech, we heard Trump offer insight into how he views the world, and it’s not pretty. Immigrants, refugees, liberals, Muslims – for Trump, all of these groups stand in the way of America’s greatness, and all will be swiftly dealt with once he assumes office. Rife with warnings and threats, the speech reads less like an outline of policy and more like a declaration of war against cultural dissenters. It is truly frightening to read, and it is even more frightening to hear the screams and cheers from the audience, whose members are so eager to surrender the rights and freedoms of others on the basis of lies and fear.
In school, our grandchildren will read books about Trump’s rise to power, and his acceptance speech may well serve as a warning, a warning that fascism has a new face, one which offers a firm but fair loving approach in public, while advocating the mass deportation of 11 million people in private. Like the March on Rome, or the publishing of Mein Kampf, it represents the first real step nominee Trump has made to lead America deeper into the bottomless pits of Hell, and to actively recruit new converts for the upcoming struggle.
It would be foolish to underestimate the threat that Trump and his supporters now represent, a threat that while significant, is nothing compared to what it may become. Trump’s real success as a fascist leader will come when he convinces ordinary people to devote their lives to the planned race wars, trade wars, or actual wars that his Presidency will no doubt have in store, much in the same way that Benito Mussolini converted apolitical Italian citizens.
How is this done? In Christopher Duggan’s Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy, the author uses diaries and letters to show how angry and frustrated ordinary Italians had become with the established order, and how this frustration drove them into the hands of fascists, who promised stability and order (all while promoting nothing but chaos and violence). Though many questioned the motives of Mussolini and his squadristi, the thought of returning to the political status quo, with all the corruption and ineptitude it brought, was too much to bear.
Given that the United States is also highly corrupt and unstable, it’s no wonder Trump has done so well. But fascism needs a modern face – there’s no Treaty of Versailles or Communist Party around to blame any more, and the cultural landscape has shifted dramatically.
But Trump’s speech shows he is more than prepared for this. He included LGBT and African-American victims of the status quo in his posturing, which may just be the equivalent of “How can I be a racist when I’ve got black friends?”, but it probably has more to do with seeking new recruits (this, to some extent, seems to be working – Penny recalls seeing gangs of young gay men wearing ‘Twinks for Trump’ t-shirts at the RNC). Overtures were made to Bernie Sanders’ supporters too, many of whom also happen to be extremely dissatisfied with the established order.
Of course, Trump embodies all of the characteristics he criticizes in Hillary Clinton, if not more so, and his policies will only accelerate the death of the empire, but none of that matters provided you meet just two conditions: a) seek power in a country strangled by corruption and poverty, and b) give good speeches.
Perhaps a quote from Michael Rosen might help explain this further.
“I sometimes fear that people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. Fascism arrives as your friend. It will restore your honor, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighborhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you. It doesn’t walk in saying ‘our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution'”.
This is why Trump routinely lies and refuses to apologize without losing support. Fascists are fundamentally orators who rely on a disaffected and angry population in order to thrive and destroy what remains of democracy. What better place than the United States, a country whose legislature has already become terminally ill due to the Republican Party, a country already facing small-scale armed insurgencies at the hands of Oath Keepers and Tea Party members?
Fascism has been coming to America for a very, very long time. Trump just represents the latest and most successful attempt at implementing it.