Donald Trump’s Fascism
It is hard to describe what is going on in the US at the moment. A European playwright from the 20st century might have called it absurd, but we don’t live in the 20st century anymore.
And I am no European playwright. I am just a confused, angry spectator of this country going down the drain, like most Americans and for that matter the rest of the world watching this drama unfold.
The difference between the 20st and the 21 century is: The absurd needed a certain sense of what is not absurd, it needed an agreement that there is such a thing as rationality which can be abolished or harmed or just plainly twisted.
Like: Rhinozeros taking over. Everybody becoming a rhinozeros. In the end, the only one who does not turn into a rhinozeros starts questioning his own sanity. This was 1959, when the French playwright Eugène Ionesco tried to come to terms with fascism and communism.
What is happening today is similar and different, it is more forceful and more sinister. It is the denial of any sense of truth in the service of crude power. The absurd fed into the 24-hour news cycle. The absurd on steroids.
This is the delirium of the moment. People pretend that they know what is going on. They talk about the crowd at the inauguration, they talk about „alternative facts“, they talk about abortion and pipelines and the wall, that will be built, they talk about the additional 40000 death from scraping Obamacare, they talk about immigrants and private prisons.
They talk about mass murder and capital punishment. They talk about the ban and about Bannon in the National Security Council. They talk about the un-American activities of this government elected under dubious circumstances and with no mandate for major changes let alone the undoing of the common good.
But in a way, this is not what is happening. This is only on the surface. This will have a tremendous impact, and it is going to be a catastrophe. But what is happening on another, deeper level is the systematic destruction of any sense of right and wrong. It is an attempt to simply take away the relevance of any moral argument by covering everything with the sneer and veneer of random paranoia.
And this will have a profound impact in a moral and metaphysical sense. This is the divide, the rupture in the line of reasoning. Because everything is up for grabs. Everything is suspicious. Everything could be different. This is what the anarchists used to say, and in a way Donald Trump is a reactionary anarchist, he is creating his own reality as he goes along.
Of course, there is a word for this method, and the word is fascist. It turns up a lot these days, since the inauguration speach every day, and this is not a surprise. It is clear the Trump embodies elements of fascism, this was all too evident at his inauguration speach.
Less clear is what these elements mean today, how they differ from the fascism we know and study, from the Italy of Mussolini and the Germany of Hitler. Fascism, it has to be said, was always an aesthetic attack as well as a political one. Fascism tried to make the argument by denying the argument, it made an impact by overwhelming the senses.
It was, in a very complicated way, a triumph of beauty, of a certain totalitarian form of beauty, this was the heritage of the Roman empire with its marble and its manly loneliness, this was the uniformity which was so different from that of modernity because it appealed to the mass as a mass, as a body, as a sentiment.
Fascism creates unity through beauty, through the cruel beauty that speaks to the masochist as well as to the sadist. Pain is an integral part of this sense of beauty, as is fear. There is a threat to this beauty which involves anybody who looks or thinks or feels differently.
The fascism of Donald Trump, for that matter, is different. The masses are random, they are not staged, they don’t look Riefenstahlesk. The appeal of this fascism is white supremacy born out of white trash. Even the ecstasy of the crowd feels like self-defense. There is a sense of defeat, even if Trump has just won an election.
They just cannot cherish the moment, and this, in a way, is by itself a typical element of fascism. Because fascism needs to celebrate the discontinuity, the rupture, is has to deny a connection to history or even the present by constantly evoking a bright and better future. It has to march on.
Fascism, it has to be said, is a utopian philosophy of exclusion, it is the promise for the few in the name of the people, it is a hatred which is cultivated against the cultivated and civilisation in general, and this hatred is not only or even merely or firstly directed against human beings, it is directed against time.
Time and history, these are the enemies, because time implies a causality, time implies something that has a beginning and an end, a development, something that comes to pass. Fascism, on the contrary, is eternity, it is there to last, it is coming back, for at least a thousand years.
This is of course not what Donald Trump said during his inauguration speach. But it was there. It was the notion that from this day forward, everything would be different. Don’t look back. There is nothing. There are just ruins. There is just American carnage.
Look ahead. There is a bright future, for Americans first. If you believe, if you just believe in what I say is true, you will get there. Don’t listen to what the others say. Don’t believe them if they say you were less in numbers. You weren’t. You were not many. You were the most. Ever.
And so everything that Donald Trump says is a test. It is a test for his believers. And it is a test for reality. Will reality, will reason revolt? Will somebody, in the absence of a wrathful god, just tear down the lies that he is building all around us? Or will it pass? Will it be accepted? Will it become the truth?
This is the exercise we are witnessing. It is a mobilization without a war. It is a mobilization of words. It is a revolt against reality. It is a revolt against reason, in the most basic sense of the word and in the most abstract sense.
Trump’s fascism, like any fascism, is a revolt against the common sense in the name of the common sense. It is an attack on anybody who is thinking differently. They have to be attacked not in their way of thinking, but in their very existence.
Either you destroy them and kill them. Or you take away what they deal in, these enemies of the state, you take their very essence, which is the agreement that makes humans human: Their ability to reflect.
Like any fascism, Trump dwells in the irrational. He has to. This is his only chance. Only by creating more confusion, only by making more and more outrageous claims will he sustain his momentum.
And this is another thing which unites all forms of fascism: The need to run, all the time, to move, to move faster and faster, to never stop, because once you stop, everything becomes clear becomes evident, the scam, and it is over.
This has just been one week. It feels like eternity. There is a sense of curiosity. How long can this go on? Well, what are the odds after this week that Donald Trump would leave the White House if he looses in 2020?
What we see is just the beginning. Trump’s constant cry of voter fraud has a very specific context. The systematic attack on rationality makes elections impossible because they seem implausible.
The will of the people has to be respected. But if it is twisted into absurdity, if the distortion becomes reality, it is time to rebell.