Among the suggestions I would have made to the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley had I been an editor of his important book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (Random House, 2018), two seem particularly relevant in the present political juncture.
The first suggestion would have been for Stanley to explicitly call out the state-capitalist and corporate-captive Democratic Party in his perceptive discussion of how the fascist-style 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump got to come off as more “authentic” than his major party opponent while habitually telling untruths and “giving voice to shocking sentiments that were presumed to be unsuitable for public discourse.”
As Stanley rightly pointed out, Democratic candidates “must raise huge sums to run for office… As a result, they represent the interests of their large donors. However, because it is a democracy, they must also try to make the case that they represent the common interest. They must pretend that the best interests of the multinational corporations that fund their campaigns are also the common interest.”
I’m not sure why Stanley thought the United States is “a democracy” (it is no such thing), but he put his thumb on a basic and longstanding conundrum in bourgeois politics. Compared with the fake-progressivism and pretend populism that results from the plutocratic contradictions (hardly restricted just to campaign finance matters) that plague liberal and social-democratic politicos under capitalism within and beyond the U.S., the openly racist and sexist ruling-class thug from Queens Donald Trump “was taken for speaking his mind,” exhibiting “classic demagogic behavior” that “came to be seen as the more authentic candidate, even when he is manifestly dishonest” (Stanley, p. 72). That’s a good and important point, relevant to our understanding neofascist political success beyond as well as within the U.S.
I thought back to Stanley’s book when I read this in a recent Salon interview with the legendary liberal investigative journalist Seymour Hersh:
Chauncey DeVega (Salon): “You have studied and written about some of the most powerful people in America and the world. What do you want the American people to know about their behavior and character as a group?”
Seymour Hersh: “I think it’s inevitable that you don’t get truth-tellers. I want the American people to stop believing everything they hear and to ask more questions, to become more skeptical. I think it’s the one reason a guy like Donald Trump won. They understood where he was coming from. That Trump is just a blowhard. They laughed at him. They knew Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But Trump wasn’t the same old big smile and a lot of good words. The Democrats have been going around saying, ‘We’re for the people, we’re for the little guy.’ And all they do is run to Wall Street for money. And the one guy that didn’t, Sanders, was sabotaged by the Democratic National Committee.”
But this is nothing remotely new. Yes, Virginia, the Democrats have an authenticity problem, you betchya. The late left Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin memorably labeled the Democrats as, get this, “the Inauthentic Opposition” twelve years ago. “Should Democrats somehow be elected,” Wolin prophesied in his book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton, 2007), they would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts,” Wolin wrote, “points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf.” The corporatist Democrats would work to “marginalize any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.”
Wolin called it. A nominal Democrat was elected president along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. What followed under Barack Obama (as under his Democratic presidential predecessor Bill Clinton) was the standard “elite” neoliberal manipulation of campaign populism and identity politics in service to the reigning big-money bankrollers and their global empire. Wall Street’s control of Washington and the related imperial agenda of the Pentagon System were advanced more effectively by the nation’s first Black president than they could have been by stiff and wealthy white Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney. The reigning U.S. system of corporate and imperial “inverted totalitarianism” (Wolin) was given a deadly, fake-democratic re-branding. The underlying “drift rightwards” sharpened, fed by a widespread and easily Republican-exploited sense of popular abandonment and betrayal, as the hypocritical and inauthentic dollar Democrats depressed and demobilized their own purported popular base.
Hillary Clinton did nothing to correct that problem in 2016. Quite the opposite. With a colossal campaign finance war-chest fed not just by the usual Wall Street and Silicon Valley suspects but also by many traditionally Republican big money donors who were repelled by Trump’s faux “populism,” the transparently corporate establishmentarian candidate Clinton could barely deign to pretend to be a progressive. She ran almost completely on the argument that Trump was too terrible and unqualified to be president. Making candidate character and qualities her sole selling point was a critical and historic mistake given the angry and anti-establishment mood of the electorate and her own epic unpopularity. So was calling Trump’s flyover county supporters a “basket of” racist and sexist “deplorables” in a sneering comment (one that accurately reflected her aristocratic “progressive”-neoliberal world view) to rich Manhattan campaign donors.
The Democrats would have won the 2016 election and overcome some of their authenticity problem by running Bernie Sanders, “the one guy that didn’t run to Wall Street for money” (Hersh). In something of a tantalizing anomaly for professor Stanley’s rule, Sanders “raise[d] huge sums” but did so from working- and middle-class small-donors (see the remarkable work of Thomas Ferguson and his colleagues on this) and didn’t “represent the interests of…large donors” or “pretend that the bests interests of the multinational corporations” were “also the common interest.” Quite the opposite.
Sanders would have authentically tapped authentic popular anger from the center-left, advancing a policy agenda and anti-plutocratic sentiments consistent with longstanding majority-progressive public opinion in the U.S.
It would have been a winning formula in an anti-establishment election. But so what? The Democratic nomination process was rigged against Sanders for some very good ruling-class reasons. As William Kaufman told Barbara Ehrenreich on Facebook two years ago, “The Democrats aren’t feckless, inept, or stupid, unable to ‘learn’ what it takes to win. They are corrupt. They do not want to win with an authentically progressive program because it would threaten the economic interests of their main corporate donor base…. The Democrats know exactly what they’re doing. They have a business model: sub-serving the interests of the corporate elite.”
The reigning corporate Democrats would rather lose to the right, even to a proto-fascistic white nationalist and eco-exterminist right, than lose to the left, even to a mildly progressive social democratic and environmentalist left within their own party.
How else explain their insistence on promoting the ridiculous, right-wing arch-corporatist, imperialist, and dementia-plagued right-wing gaffe machine Joke Biden in the long march to the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries? Again and again, the Democrats’ main cable news networks CNN and MSDNC falsely and insidiously describe Sanders’ highly popular, majority-backed Single Payer health insurance policy plank as an authoritarian big government assault on people’s existing coverage instead of a great democratic human rights demand. The “liberal” media perversely portrays the fiscally viable and existentially necessary Green New Deal as a far-out and dreamy radical scheme from another galaxy. When they’re not just completely ignoring him and his large rallies (probably the main way they undermine Sanders), the corporate media even stoops to painting out Sanders as another version of Trump: old, authoritarian, stubborn, male, and boorish.
But this is timeworn standard operating procedure in the Democratic Party and its allied media, leading agents in what the prolific leading left scholar Henry Giroux calls “neoliberal fascism.” It’s a richly bipartisan disease. In Giroux’s book American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018), one sees none of Stanley’s hesitation or reluctance when it comes to forthrightly acknowledging and exposing the central roles of the Democrats and the capitalist order in the creation of the neofascist menace that haunts the United States today.
Fascism Needs a Socialist Menace
My second suggestion to Stanley would have been to include anti-socialism as one of his top, chapter-worthy lynchpins of fascist ideology . Historical fascism was first and above all an organized assault on working class resistance and the socialist Left — an assault that was embraced by the reigning Italian and German capitalist classes in the name of stopping Marxism, socialism, Bolshevism, and communism. Anti-socialism remains so fundamental to fascist politics and ideology that contemporary neofascist politicos like Trump, Mitch McConnell, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Wayne LaPierre, and Sean Hannity feel the need to concoct a socialist menace where very little if any real radical Left exists. In the United States, we have a grand total of three politicians in elected federal office — Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib — who identify as “democratic socialists.” People who call themselves socialists make up less than one percent of the total Congressional delegation of a (not-so) Democratic Party that is deeply beholden to Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley Chase, Lockheed Martin and the broad “billionaire class” that Sanders regularly denounces and refuses to take money from. The party’s leaders proudly embrace capitalism and, including Warren, applauded when the Neofascist-in-Chief made his neo-McCarthyite call for Congress to pledge that the United States would “never be a socialist country” during his State of the Union Address last winter. And the three self-declared Congressional “socialists” aren’t even real socialists. They are progressive Democrats: social-democratish progressive neo-New Dealers trying to add some modest measure of social and environmental decency to late capitalism.
But, well, so what? Orange Skull, “Moscow Mitch,” Field Marshal Miller, Princess Kellyanne, the National fascist Rifle Association, Herr Hannity, Lieutenant Limbaugh, and the rest of the white nationalist noise machine rail and warn constantly against the “radical Left” and “socialist” Democrats. Neofascists need a big socialist Left specter to justify their sickening existence. They need the socialist foil so badly that they’ll invent it even where it barely exists.
Dollar Dem Donny Deutsch(land): “This Company is Not Denmark”
There’s a nauseating irony here. The neofascist project of Donito Assolini and his allies is curiously aided and abetted by a “liberal” media can’t seem to use to the F-word — fascism (or at least “neo-fascism” or “fascist-style”) — when describing the actually fascistic politics of Trump, his party, and his base. But that same media can’t stop using the S-word, socialism, in complaining and warning about the supposed “far left” menace in its own party. Listen to the ridiculous retired multi-millionaire advertising executive and current MSDNC Saturday night show-host Donny Deutsch on “Morning Joe” last March :
“I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, 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 [Democratic presidential candidate in 2020] 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.”
That, to quote paraphrase Happy Gilmore’s one-armed golf instructor, was spoken like a true asshole. Oh yes, Donny Deutsch, what a ruinous nightmare it would be if the world’s richest nation granted all its people quality health care as a human right like they do in Trotskyist Denmark — and if we started trying to save the human race from extinction by introducing large-scale green jobs programs. Bernie Sanders, he of the essential Green New Deal and Stalinist-Canadian Single Payer, is “more dangerous to this company, country” than the fascist Donald Trump. That’s telling some harsh truths, Donny boy: standing up for your company, country!
Never mind that 57% of U.S. Democrats now prefer “socialism” to “capitalism” — this for some very good reasons.
To repeat: the establishment Democrats would rather lose to the right, even to a proto-fascistic white-nationalist and eco-exterminist right, than lose to the left, even to a mildly progressive social democratic and environmentalist left within their own party?
Postscript: Some Further Weak-End Reflections
In the meantime, here are twelve further and related political reflections for Counterpunchers to consider this weekend:
#1. How many times have we said, “oh boy this time it has really become unhinged, it has really lost it now” and then the Trumpenstein doubles down and creates new “norm-busting” moments of mind-boggling madness. Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows. I got tripped-up this week up by its “I am the Chosen One” comment, its “King of Israel” tweet, its stated interested in “buying Greenland,” and its claim to want to “release ISIS fighters back into Europe”. I was like, “okay that’s all just too far, it can’t survive saying and tweeting things that insane.” Who was I kidding? There is no line in the sand. I woke up Thursday and realized that it’s just another tricky day in the Scary Clown drain-circling circus of America’s long farewell tour. The “Chosen One” line, Anthony DiMaggio writes, “is Christian neofascism at its finest.”
#2. Las Vegas should start a betting line on whether Trump will leave peacefully if 2020 doesn’t go his way. Unless it’s a total epic anti-Dump landslide, I frankly don’t see Tangerine Jackass leaving peacefully. Anything remotely close and he will contest the count. I expect post-election violence from Trump’s “tough guys” — many of them heavily armed — on a perhaps shocking scale unless the count goes his way. He’s been setting people up for a refusal to leave from day one, with his opening claims to have been denied a popular vote victory. He has been triggering and cultivating the violence-prone racist and sexist white far-right from day one. Has said and tweeted much that fits my bet from day one. Throw his recent absurd claim that Google stole 2. 6 million votes from him in 2016 into the mix. No doubt many will denounce this is a kooky left conspiracy theory. It is no such thing. Ask his longtime personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who warned Congress that Trump will not exit the White House peacefully earlier this year.
#3. Mass shooting deja vu: Fascist Wayne Lapierre, head of the fascist and terrorist NRA, called the “Midtown Mussolini” (Eric Draitster’s excellent phrase for Trump) and so now (as widely predicted) even tepid background checks — irrelevantly supported by more than 8 in U.S.-Americans (a significant majority of whom also irrelevantly support an assault weapons ban) — are off the table. Sound familiar? It’s just like after Parkland. The Washington Post reports that the lifespan of popular outrage over grisly mass shootings like Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Parkland, and El Paso (and so many more) is about three weeks. The NRA and the GOP just have to wait the outrage out for 21 days. Talk about mental health and say that even background checks are a “slippery slope” (Trump used that term last Wednesday) leading to the complete abrogation of “Second Amendment rights.” Meanwhile, white-nationalist psychos and other freaks are cleaning and oiling their assault weapons in the race to the next big kill. Spin the Wheel of Death on when and where the next major bloodbath occurs. Speaking of Vegas (home to the record-setting mass shooting death total), what’s the over-under on how many days? It’s not about if; it’s just about when and where. This is the carnage and barbarism that white-nationalist gun-mad Amerikaners have made in idiotic Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s “beacon to the world of the way life should be.”
#4. The Evil Pile of Fascist Crap wants Internment Camps. Evil Pile’s new rule, issued on Wednesday, unilaterally abrogating the Flores settlement agreement points in precisely that direction. The rule may well be shot down in court, but everyone needs to understand that Evil Pile and his enablers want to construct a network of for-profit internment camps that will detain migrant families for an indefinite period.
#5. Not being Jewish religiously or ethnoculturally, I can only imagine how Jewish people (who have tended toward the liberal and left side of the American spectrum on the whole), must have felt when they heard the big goyish dumpster-fire from Queens telling them they are traitors to their own ethno-cultural and religious group/identity unless they vote Republican. How insanely surreal. The lecture comes from a POTUS who has clearly cultivated support from neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites.
#6. I need politicos and talking heads to stop calling the President of the United States “our commander-in-chief.” While rightly denouncing the Scary fascist Clown’s Trump’s insane comments on American Jews’ voting behavior on CNN last Wednesday, the head of the Anti-Defamation League referred to Trump as “our commander-in-chief.” (CIC). No, please stand down. Are U.S. citizens all enlisted in the U.S. military? No, they are not. The POTUS is the CIC of the military, not the whole population. Read the Constitution. This is so basic, Civics 101.
#7. Beyond insanity and narcissism, the thread connecting all Scary Clown’s shit together is white-lash neofascism. I am intrigued that they just can’t seem to say this on MSDNC. The reflexive kowtowing to the fascist NRA no matter how many disproportionately black and brown bodies fall to bullets shot from military-style weapons in post-“civil society.” The racist internment camps. The “shit-hole nation” comments. The refusal to respond properly to Puerto Rico’s hurricane disaster. The assault on the “Squad,” telling four progressive congresswomen of color to “go back to the crime-ridden countries you came from.” The sadistic torture of migrant children. The obsession with winning and looking strong. The shaming of strong women. The promotion of a cult of personality around himself. The constant assault on the media as “enemies of the people.” The violence-promoting and hate-filled rallies. The threat of violence if he is removed from office. The mocking of Asians. The mocking of disabled people. Saying “the Blacks love me.” The attacks on Cummings and Baltimore and Chicago. The constant slandering of Latinx immigrants and asylum-seekers as an “invasion” and “infestation.” The pig Slovenian wife with the fascist “I Don’t Care Do U?” jacket. The national emergency end-run around Congressional Wall funding. The insane Wall. The threats to unleash thermonuclear “fire and fury.” The continuing absurd claim to have won the 2016 popular vote and been cheated out of it by illegal immigrants and minority vote fraud. The threat of violence from “tough people” — bikers, soldiers, cops, and (though not explicitly mentioned) white-supremacist militias — if he is removed from office. The triggering and defense of violent white-nationalist psycho-killers. The absurd threat to call Antifa a “terrorist organization” while staying silent on openly fascist white-supremacists and even suggesting Nazis and KKKers include “some very fine people.” The advance pardon of fascist Sheriff Arpaio. The constant references to the center-right corporate-neoliberal Democratic Party as “radical Left” and “socialist.” Even the recent Greenland-Denmark madness (fascists love to acquire territory). I could go on. It may be a malignantly narcissist lunatic and idiot, but it is also a white-nationalist neofascist.
#8. Evil Pile’s special word for women who reject Evil Pile’s noxious idiocy: “NASTY.” Evil Pile’s special word for men who reject his noxious idiocy: WEAK.
#9. Jill Biden should be ashamed of herself. “Your candidate might be better,” Dr. Jill recently lectured voters, “on, I don’t know, healthcare than Joe is but you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election, and maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘Okay, I personally like so and so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.” There are three problems here: (a) Dr. Jill’s dementia-addled jackass of a right-wing husband is an un-electable buffoon; (b) centrist corporate and professional-class scolds like Dr. Jill have been saying this nauseating “Lesser Evilist” crap to forever and it is no small part of what has brought us to the brink of fascism. (c) Wanting Single Payer and a Green New Deal is about sentiments that go a lot deeper and wider than “personal like[s].” It’s about basic human decency and averting true environmental catastrophe.
#10. The Obamas made a movie about a Chinese billionaire building a glass factory through their new film company “Higher Ground.” I’m not kidding. I’m guessing that the documentary, titled “American Factory,” is meant to be a trumpeting of neoliberal globalism: a Chinese billionaire came in and built an American factory. In a “Today Show” interview promoting the film, a remarkably unattractive Barack Obama looked less-than-enthused as he proclaimed that “a good story is a good story.” “Higher Ground,” intoned Michelle Obama, “is a reflection of both of us, so that means that, you know, our platform is going to look a little bit like everything, just like the world is a little bit of everything.” Is it possible to say anything more vapidly meaningless than that? In the Today interview, you could tell by the look on Barack Obama’s face that he really couldn’t give a flying f#*k about this flick and that the whole new film venture is probably just something to appease Michelle. They look deeply disenchanted with (a) their movie; (b) each other; and (c) their vapid neoliberal lives. To paraphrase Herr Donald, it’s all very “weak.” (On the bright side, perhaps the Obamas’ movie will cause mass civil unrest, as millions pour into the streets to demand that Chinese billionaires build glass and other kinds of factories in their cities and towns too. The red flag of revolution could be raised as the American working-class demands the investment of surplus Chinese capital in the U.S. heartland.)
#11. If you look at the so-called mainstream (corporate-state) media, it’s doctrine that “politics” equals electoral politics centered around the citizenry qua electorate making marks for two minutes once every 2 or 4 years on ballots next to candidate names selected in advance for them by the un-elected dictatorship of money. “That’s politics.” It’s a childish joke, an infantilizing farce. Listen to the great radical historian Howard Zinn in March of 2008, writing as Barack Von Obombdenburg took over the minds of many who should have known better: “We have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students… The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.” “You had your input,” our masters tell all us poor little fools. We got it the last time we had our chance to go into a voting booth for two minutes and choose from a narrow roster of “pre-approved, money-vetted candidates.” Two minutes once every 1,460 or 730 days. If we play along with that insanely narrow, savagely time-staggered definition of popular sovereignty then we deserve everything we get, frankly. Sorry, my fellow “Americans,” but you don’t stop tyranny by restricting your politics to such childish little narrow and time-staggered rituals of ruling class legitimation. That’s, well, weak.
# 12. An interesting question: will MSDNC out-do CNN and FOX in pouring scorn on, or simply ignoring, Bernie Sanders’ big Thursday Green New Deal roll-out?
1) Stanley devotes separate chapters to ten different strands of fascist ideology and politics: the mythical national and patriarchal past; propaganda; anti-intellectualism; unreality; hierarchy; victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, fear of cities; embrace of hard work and hatred of laziness and dependency. He does note some aspects of the anti-Marxism that is ubiquitous in fascist thought: see How Fascism Works, pp. 42-45, 55-56, 89, 171-172, 176.
Previously published on Counter Punch, Aug. 23, 2019
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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