Trump’s Authoritarian Crackdown
The new administration has worryingly fascist undertones
Donald Trump isn’t Hitler. America’s democracy is a more mature beast than the Weimar Republic’s ever was. But failure to recognise the warning signs of fascism nevertheless poses a danger to us all. If such a coup were taking place, the question is: would we even notice?
Fascism has been consigned to history. It’s something we learn about in high school, or maybe hear about on a History Channel documentary, and it’s certainly not used in modern political discourse. In America and the UK especially, the countries which stood against Nazi Germany, there’s an overwhelming attitude that we simply don’t do fascism. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Today’s fascism won’t arrive singing Horst-Wessel-Lied and brandishing swastikas. Instead, it’ll come dressed in a sharp suit and polished up so as to sound presentable. It will talk about “common sense policies” and returning things to how they once were, which is little more than a dogwhistle for a fascist’s usual arsenal: racism, nationalism, etc.
Whichever definition of fascism you use, from Emilio Gentile to Dimitri Kitsikis, the warning signs are all there. The Trump administration regularly flexes its authoritarian muscles. Such remarks as “alternative facts” or equating negative polls to “fake news” may at first seem humorous. However, they pave the way for something far more sinister.
The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake
Umberto Eco characterised fascism as as a ‘Cult of Action for Action’s Sake’. This dictates that action is in itself valuable, regardless of outcome. In other words, action should always be taken and pensive reflection is unnecessary. This leads to the same anti-intellectualism which hallmarked the Nazi regime, with its book burnings and government condemnation of academics.
“Britain has had enough of experts,” said Brexiteers. Their campaign has been accredited as the precursor movement to Trump’s shocking victory in November. It set the tone for the American administration to follow, one which lauds any negative reporting as ‘fake news’ and talks of fictionalised terrorist attacks in Bowling Green or Sweden. Truth, stats, and experts are all irrelevant.
Not only does this rhetoric show a lack of expertise you would expect from the world’s most powerful leader, but it endangers the very fundamentals of a healthy democracy: a free press. Those such as The New York Times which factually call out Trump’s lies are attacked. Meanwhile, Breitbart and his advocates are allowed exclusive access to White House events. The President is cultivating a selection of approved media outlets.
The Rejection of Modernism
Eco also argues that a fascist regime rejects modernism. The development of western culture is seen as a descent into depravity. In Trump’s case, this takes the form of his ‘Make America Great Again’ tagline. His supporters see recent societal developments as wrong and seek a return to the past. This leads into a ‘Fear of Difference’, which manifests itself as the racism, homophobia, and sexism seen on the campaign trail.
Disagreement Is Treason
Fascists devalue intellectual discourse, often out of fear that such analysis will expose the contradictions and fallacies in their arguments. Trump calls media outlets critical of his presidency the “enemy of the people” and refers to the independent actions of the judiciary or intelligence agencies as ‘un-American’. Everything possible is being done to not only delegitimize his critics but to paint the mere act of opposition as working against the country’s interests.
Machismo and Newspeak
No sign of fascism is more apparent in the Trump administration than the use of newspeak. Trump’s simplistic vocabulary stifles debate and simultaneously appeals to the ‘lowest common denominator’. Studies show that “many Americans know nothing about their government” with 39% incorrectly believing that the Constitution gives the president the power to declare war and almost 10% thinking that atheism could be outlawed under the pretence of America being ‘one nation under God’.
Working class voters might not understand the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act or the USA Freedom Act, but anyone can follow soundbite politics. Phrases like ‘lock her up’ or ‘build the wall’ replaced meaningful discussion of policies on the campaign trail. Most importantly, they debased the election and blocked true opposition. How can you argue against someone who refutes all evidence contrary to their beliefs without any of their own?
Meanwhile, the injection of machismo into the political sphere is an unwelcome one. Trump displays such hyper-masculinity, from assuring voters that there is “no problem” with the size of his hands (or anything else) to comments about female cast members on The Apprentice flirting with him. This inevitably leads to the sexist policies we now see emerging from the White House.
Donald Trump isn’t Hitler
Yet again, it’s important to reiterate that Donald Trump isn’t Hitler. America’s democracy is a more mature beast than the Weimar Republic’s ever was. But it’s nevertheless important to recognize the warning signs of fascism and remain vigilant, especially at a time when the “US is no longer a full democracy”. As an ideology, fascism is far from dead and buried.
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