“I Have the Tough People”
Recently Donald Trump, the orange mother of all assholes, said this in an interview with the proto-fascistic alt-right Website Breitbart News:
“You know, the left plays a tougher game, it’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump–I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough—until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
Don Veto Trumpleone was saying in not-so veiled ways that efforts to impeach or un-elect him will be met with white police- and military-state violence and carnage from right wing-thugs. If “the Left” (as FOX News and the Republicans absurdly describe everyone to the portside of Mitch McConnell) tries to remove him from office through constitutional means, Trump was boasting, then forces of repression and right-wing aggression will rightly come to his defense
This warning was consistent with Trump’s toxic history of promoting violence against his political enemies. It matches his creepy embrace of authoritarian rulers around the world and his longstanding suggestion that any effort to bring an end his presence in the White House would be illegitimate. From the beginning of his presidency, Trump has been using the hoax of immigrant voter fraud to set up a cancellation of the 2020 election or a refusal to recognize its results.
His ugly Ameikaner base will back any such moves. More than half (52%) of Americans who identify as or lean Republican would support postponing the 2020 election “to ensure that only eligible citizens could vote if it was proposed by President Trump.” (The mendacious neoliberal warmonger Hillary Clinton wasn’t all wrong when she called the president’s backers “a basket of deplorables.”)
Trump’s “tough people” comment reflected the authoritarian mindset of a wannabe fascist strongman. Trump was only half-joking when he said the United States should consider making the presidency an appointment “for life” — and when he said this about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un: “He is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head … He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
“Believe the autocrat,” the Russian-American journalist and dissident Masha Gessen has warned: “He means what he says.”
In some cases, at least, the pathological liar Trump should be believed.
Left Threat Inflation
Who are all the badass lefties who “play it tough,” in Trump’s words? Outside of some dicey Antifa and radical skinhead types, it’s a tiny group – certainly nothing compared to the assault weapon-wielding right-wing militias and other armed and brutish white-nationalists who thrill to Trump’s call to Make America White Again.
Fascism, however, requires the notion that the virtuous and betrayed white Nation is besieged by a big dangerous Left that must be put down by steely-eyed patriots ready to defend the “homeland” by any means necessary. Inflation of the “radical left” threat is a key part of the fascist playbook. It’s why nobody should laugh when they hear Republicans and right-wing media personalities habitually refer to the corporate-neoliberal Democratic Party as “socialist,” “radical,” and “leftist.”
Ignoring Fascism, Inflating Socialism
I watched a panel of experts discuss Trump’s “play it tough” statement on CNN. A dark-haired female commentator suggested that Trump’s comments were the unhinged ramblings of a big dummy drunk on power. A sharp fellow with a stylish white beard called the president’s remarks authoritarian and dangerous. A clean-shaven Republican hack found Trump’s comments mild and reasonable.
Neither CNN host Don Lemon nor any of his guests could bring themselves to say the F-word, fascism, in relation to Trump’s latest arch-authoritarian outrage. Too bad. As I have shown across at least twelve commentaries published in the last three years, numerous dreadful strands have intertwined to knit Trumpism into a noxious cloth of creeping 21st century-style and neoliberal-era fascism. One such strand is Trump’s recurrent encouragement of extra-legal political violence against his opponents and critics.
Curiously enough, talking heads who can’t properly mouth the F-word when it comes to Trump and his backers love to say the S-word (socialism) when it comes to the Democrats. They are happy to inaccurately call Bernie Sanders’ neo-New Deal progressive populism “socialism” – and to promote the false and perhaps unwittingly fascism-fueling notion that socialism is taking over the Democratic Party.
These narratives are misleading. Yes, Sanders occasionally dons the socialist label. He’s also the Democratic presidential contender to have enjoyed the most impressive 2020 rollout so far.
Another high-profile self-declared socialist, the Republican and FOX News obsession Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), now holds a seat in the U.S. House.
Most remarkably of all, perhaps, 57 percent of the Democratic Party’s voters now say they prefer socialism to capitalism.
But the fact that Sanders calls himself a socialist doesn’t mean he really is one any more than the fact that Trump doesn’t call himself a fascist means the president isn’t a fascist. While Trump wraps his stealth fascism in the flag of American Freedom, Bernie (a social democrat at leftmost) bends over backwards to label his proposals “not radical.” He doesn’t call for workers to seize control of the means of production, distribution, communication, and investment. He doesn’t advocate the dismantlement of the Pentagon System or the nationalization of the leading financial institutions.
As in 2015 and 2016, Bernie is promising in advance to support the corporate-Democratic candidate, whoever it may be, against the Republican Party. He channels popular energies into the bourgeois masters’ narrow and strictly time-staggered election cycle, focusing on who’s sitting in the White House instead of the more meaningful and radical politics of who’s sitting in the streets, factories, offices, schools, and town halls. He’s no Eugene Debs or Bill Haywood.
At the same time, the Sanders tendency is nowhere close to taking over the Democratic Party. AOC is the only one of the House’s 435 members to identify as a socialist. Sanders is the only one of 100 U.S. Senators to sometimes do the same. The Blue Wave that brought a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives this year was mainly a corporate-Democratic centrist wave, not a lefty-progressive one. That tends to get lost in the flurry of wildly disproportionate attention the media has given to AOC and other “controversial” female and nonwhite progressive House newcomers like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Thalib.
Along with their many friends at CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, N”P”R, “P”BS, Politico, The Hill, and the Daily Beast, the “pragmatic” (corporate-neoliberal) wing of the Democratic Party smears progressive Democrats’ calls for decent policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as “half-baked,” “fantastic,” “unrealistic,” and “pie-in-the-sky” – and as guaranteed to help Trump win a second term.
Never mind that these “radical socialist” proposals have majority popular support and that a Green New Deal is now an existential necessity for the species. Never mind that Sanders would have defeated Trump running on these proposals in 2016. Or that Sanders is the candidate most capable of mobilizing enough contested state voters to defeat the Great God Trump in 2020.
And never mind that socialism would be the embodiment of democracy, not a threat to popular self-rule – or that “capitalist democracy” means no real democracy at all.
The Democratic Party isn’t about social and economic justice, democracy, popular self-governance, or ecological survival. It isn’t even mainly about winning elections. It’s about serving and colluding with corporate sponsors and climbing the neoliberal global-capitalist oligarchy (think Bill Clinton and Barack Obama). Like Sinclair Lewis’ imagined American fascists in his 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here (see Endnote 2 below), it is no less dedicated than its Republican counterpart to “government of the profits, by the profits, for the profits.”
Dollar Democrats Prefer Fascism to Socialism
Meanwhile, by contrast with the “threat” posed by “socialism,” the U.S. presidency is now held by a white-nationalist, arch-authoritarian gangster who is at the very least an aspiring fascist leader atop a significantly fascist mass base. Trump’s supporters comprise roughly a third of the U.S. electorate but enjoy wildly outsized political voice thanks to the over-representation of red/Republican districts in the absurdly archaic and undemocratic U.S. system of Congressional apportionment indirect presidential (s)election.
Fascists often get into power peacefully, via the fake-democratic bourgeois electoral process. They do so thanks to that process’s cringing captivity to concentrated wealth and to the transparent inauthenticity of corporate-bought liberal politicians’ claims to represent ordinary working people and the common good (e.g. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, and Joe Biden).
Fascists stay in power with the help of bourgeois (neo-) “liberals” who inflate the supposedly terrible danger allegedly posed by purported socialism. Listen to the fevered fears of advertising executive and MSNBC commentator Donny Deutsch (net worth $200 million). “I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being,” Deutsch recently told MSDNC morning host Joe Scarborough, “but a socialist candidate [Bernie Sanders] is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump. I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being… I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist [presidential candidate or president] because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark. I love Denmark, but that’s not who we are. And if you love who we are and all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side. Please step away from the socialism.” The “liberal” Deutsch, who has likened Trump voters (with no small justice) to Nazis, voiced his readiness to vote for the fascist bigot Trump over anyone who tries to make America more like the happy, social-democratic nation Denmark.
But, of course. As I’ve been saying for years, the dismal dollar-drenched corporate Democrats prefer losing to the right, even a creeping fascist white-nationalist right, over losing to the left, even the explicitly non-radical social-democratic left in their own party.
That’s why MSDNC’s and CNN’s liberal chatterboxes go on and on about how “the Democrats have a socialism problem” but continue to step lightly (more than two years into a creeping fascist presidency!) around the Republicans’ much more real and genuinely threatening fascism problem.
By falsely inflating the supposed radical menace of “socialism,” corporate neo-“liberal” media personalities help feed the fascist peril they claim to abhor and can’t name.
Gird Your Loins
Trump isn’t just a wacky, thuggish, and “reprehensible human being” (Deutsch). He’s all of those, but he’s also the aspiring Superpower-heading leader of a global fascist movement whose most recent example is the white-nationalist who recently murdered dozens of Muslims in New Zealand after releasing a manifesto that hailed Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Trump is precisely that for an angry mass of “blood and soil” male Caucasians at home and abroad.
We can be sure that Trump secretly delights in that role. Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney and fixer, concluded that Trump is not unlike the Nazis who murdered Cohen’s Jewish ancestors in Europe. Twenty-nine years ago, we learned from the lawyer of Trump’s first wife Ivana that the future president enjoyed reading from a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which Trump kept close to his bed.
A few weeks ago, Cohen tried to tell Congress and the nation that his former boss probably won’t leave the White House without bloodshed. He’s right about that. Fascists don’t generally leave head-of-state positions peaceably.
Gird your loins and give to your local blood bank, America: getting rid of Orange DumpsterFire&Fury the nation’s first fascist president is not going to be pretty.
 See: this (“The Donald Can Happen Here,” Counterpunch, March 11, 2016); this (“Trump’s Shock and Awe Campaign,” Truthdig, 2-3-2017); this (“Orange Thing,” Counterpunch, 10-13-2017); this (“An Insubordinate President,” Truthdig, 11-14-2017); this (“American-Style Totalitarianism in the Age of Trump,” Truthdig, 12-22-2017); this (“Trump’s Durable Base,” Counterpunch, 2-2-2018); this (“The Madness of King Don,” Counterpunch, 2-16-2018); this (“Creeping Fascism No Problem for Trump’s Durable Base,” Truthdig, 9-5-2018, including an in-depth examination of the leading social science data on the fascist Trump base); this (“‘Male Energy,’ Authoritarian Whiteness, and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump,” Counterpunch, 10-19-2018); this (“Trump’s Endless Mendacity and the Dawn of American Fascism,” Truthdig,10-31-2018, with special emphasis on the assault on truth); this (“Signs of Creeping Fascism are All Around Us,” Truthdig,11-14-2018); this (“Barack von Obamenburg and How Fascism Happens,” Counterpunch, 11-16-2018,); this (“Bordering on Fascism,” Counterpunch, 1-11-2019); and this (“Cohen’s Overlooked Warning,” Counterpunch, 3-1-2019).
 Consistent with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 warning, contemporary fascists often don’t openly announce their fascist nature. “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” an anonymous mid-20th century American (often but incorrectly said to be Lewis) observed. No Swastikas, brownshirts in the streets, and “New Man” cults would be required. Lewis wrote in his 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here that American fascism’s most dangerous promoters were those “who disowned the word ‘fascism’ and preached enslavement to capitalism under the style of constitutional and traditional native American liberty.” American fascism, Lewis warned, would be cloaked in the Star- Spangled Banner and all about “government of the profits, by the profits, for the profits.” It Can’t Happen Here merits reading 84 years after its publication. It is a biting satirical screed against the comforting notion that “American exceptionalism” inoculated the United States against the disease of fascism. “The Hell it can’t,” Lewis told us, a bit early in the game, as the United States actually reached its leftmost democratic moment with the rise of the Second New Deal.
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of seven books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014). Paul writes regularly for Truthdig, Telesur English, Counterpunch, Black Agenda Report, Z Magazine and Dandelion Salad.
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