It is time to start using the word “fascism.” The United States, in the past four years, has been on a steep decline into utter chaos while the state has ensured untold transfers of wealth and power into the hands of the few. While right-wing talking heads continue to use traditional conservative rhetoric to suggest that somehow Trump has expanded freedom in this country, the truth is that civil liberties have been cracked down upon, upward mobility has vanished and democracy has diminished. With the upcoming election doomed to be an absolute mess, it is not unrealistic to suggest that we are on the brink of a total fascist takeover.
The reason I am urging the use of the word fascism to describe the Trump administration is because there are, for some reason, some in the social sciences who refuse to use the word. Robert Paxton in 2016 famously put space between the label and Trump. Historian David A. Bell in August of this year wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post titled, “Trump is a racist demagogue. But he’s not a fascist.” Noam Chomsky has suggested that Trump is too much of a narcissist to be a fascist. Besides, as he says, “The fascist systems were based on the principle that the powerful state… should basically control everything… including the business community,” while Trump’s United States is characterized by corporate power.
Chomsky’s understanding of fascism necessitating control over the business community is flawed. As Robert Paxton writes in his book The Anatomy of Fascism,
fascists’ anti-capitalism was highly selective. Even at their most radical, the socialism that the fascists wanted was a “national socialism”: one that denied only foreign or enemy property rights (including that of internal enemies). They cherished national producers. Above all, it was by offering an effective remedy against socialist revolution that fascism turned out in practice to find a space.
Since Trump took office, corporate power has become unbridled while the Trump administration has implemented protectionist policies. We’ve seen this with the trade war with China, where billions of dollars-worth of tariffs were imposed to protect American “intellectual property,” while pushing American consumers towards now-cheaper American products. While the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was supposed to bring jobs back for American workers by increasing tariffs on American corporations who have outsourced production to Mexico, as the International Monetary Fund has pointed out in a recent report, these corporations would rather just pay the extra fee and continue off-shore production. Essentially, both the trade war and the UMCA were previously populist, suggesting a connection between nationalism and labor that fails to actually deliver anything to the working class.
At the same time, Trump has implemented the least humane immigration policy of the modern era. His predecessor, Obama, set a high bar, having deported three million people, more than any other president in American history. Under Obama, more than 10,000 parents of American citizens were imprisoned each year in California alone. According to a study conducted by The Marshall Project, data obtained, “detailing over 300,000 deportations…” showed that “roughly 60 percent were of immigrants with no criminal conviction or whose only crime was immigration related.” In 2014, the Obama administration also expanded family detention as well, described by the Detention Watch Network as “the inhumane and unjust policy of jailing immigrant mothers with their children-including babies.”
Trump has extrapolated on the worst aspects of these policies. In May of 2018, Trump’s cabinet voted at a meeting to begin separating the children of detained families at the border. More than 5,000 children were separated from their families and today, the parents of more than 500 children cannot be located. Six children have died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
During the pandemic, deportations increased without any new safety measures. Migrants were shoved in spaces where social distancing was impossible. In some cases, COVID-19 was exported to countries. In March, ICE deported dozens of Guatemalans who tested positive for the virus upon their arrival.
This month, ICE began enforcing its new “expedited removal” rules, allowing for deportations to occur without court hearings. Previously, court hearings were required unless immigrants were arrested within 100 miles of the border. Asylum claims that have gone to court have increasingly been denied as Trump has packed the judiciary with conservative judges. In Memphis, four Trump-appointed judges denied 90 percent of asylum claims in 2019 whereas on average in years prior they denied 50 percent of claims.
Of course, in September of this year, it was revealed that ICE had been carrying out unusually high rates of hysterectomies, in some cases, without proper consent. Detainees who spoke with The Intercept said that doctors pressured them into undergoing hysterectomies. No translator was present to adequately explain the procedure they were to be receiving. This is what the Indonesians did to the Timorese during the genocidal occupation of East Timor.
As Richard Wolf writes for Salon on the connection between European capitalism and fascism in the twentieth century, initial decentralization of the state, “gave way to a strong tendency toward state centralization. In certain extreme conditions, a centralized state merged with a capitalist class of large, concentrated employers.” In the United States, the CARES Act passed since the spread of COVID-19 has allowed for a massive upward transfer of wealth and the permanent restructuring of the economy around, “large, concentrated employers.”
The CARES Act gave Americans a one-time $1200 check and allowed welfare recipients to get $600 a week for four months. However, banks were given the go-ahead to seize payments from any individual who had outstanding debts.
The true winner was corporate America. The bill consists of billions in tax breaks and billions in loans to large corporations. These loans allowed for corporations to be eligible for further loans from the Federal Reserve, resulting in trillions in extra loans on top of the initial bailout. Within days, the Payment Protection Program blew through its cap of $300 billion in funding, which was meant to go to small businesses, though large hotel chains qualified for this funding as well. Banks facilitating these payments profited enormously. One hundred thousand small businesses have closed while American billionaires’ wealth has increased by $637 billion since the start of the crisis. Income inequality today is worse than it was in France before the French Revolution. Millions are at risk of getting evicted.
In Naomi Wolf’s 2007 The End of America, she writes about the media’s relationship to fascist leaders.
“In all dictatorships, targeting the free press begins with political pressure—loud, angry campaigns for the news to represented in a way that supports the group that seeks dominance,” She wrote. “Attacks escalate to smears, designed to shame members of the press personally; then editors face pressure to fire journalists who are not parroting the party line. A caste of journalists and editors who support the regime develops, whether out of conviction, a wish for advancement, or fear. Such regimes promote false news in a systemic campaign of disinformation, even as they go after independent voices.”
There has certainly been a rise of jingoistic right-wing media. FOX News and Breitbart have provided untold amounts of time and print space toward pro-Trump opinion pieces. OAN News has been invited to White House press conferences since Trump took office. OAN has promoted the potentially harmful drug hydroxychloroquine. Following the footage of the man in Buffalo being pushed to the ground by police at a Black Lives Matter protest, OAN falsely reported that the man was a member of “ANTIFA,” who had undertaken a “false flag provocation.” This report was retweeted by Trump himself.
So far, the mainstream media has faced political pressure, but has yet to face any substantive repercussions outside of the occasional removal of a journalist from press briefings. Being the unhinged lunatic that he is, Trump has created endless news stories focused on his ridiculous existence.
“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” CBS chairman Leslie Moonves said in March of 2016. “The money’s rolling in, and this is fun. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” For now, they have a good thing going with the president, despite their political disagreements. Journalists writing for the Washington Post get to stand proudly behind the banner “Democracy Dies in Darkness” as the advertisement space on their website and newspapers contributes to maintaining Jeff Bezos’ richest man alive status.
Trump has, however, gone after Julian Assange, a pariah in the mainstream political world. Many hold a grudge against Assange, claiming he helped Trump get elected by publishing the leaks from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential race. The implications of the Assange case, however, are incredibly far-reaching and could outlaw reporting on state secrets entirely. The silence from the mainstream media may come back to haunt them. His case has the potential to be the worst assault on press freedom in the developed world in modern history.
Assange is currently being held on charges of jumping bail in London. In March of 2019, the U.S. charged him under the Espionage Act for publishing a video provided by a source, allegedly Chelsea Manning, of American planes opening fire on civilians, killing, among them, two Reuters journalists. During his extradition trial, Assange was placed behind a glass cage used for violent offenders, making private conference with his lawyers impossible.
“When defense witnesses showed that Assange’s actions were no different from those of any other journalist cultivating sources, prosecutors reversed course to allow that any journalist publishing classified documents could be liable to prosecution,” Charles Glass wrote.
If this were the precedent in the United States, the Washington Post journalists who reported on the Pentagon Papers would be liable, Glenn Greenwald, who reported on the Snowden revelations would be liable, Jeremy Scahill, who reported on the Drone Papers would be liable and so on.
Of course, to complete the fascist takeover, Trump would have to successfully dismantle democracy. During the first presidential debate, Trump told the Proud Boys, a violent right-wing hate group, to “stand back” but also to “stand by” on election day. Since then we have seen the California Republican Party deploy unofficial ballot boxes in at least four counties with some of them labeled as official. Despite the state’s order to cease and desist, the organization has said that they will continue to deploy the fake ballot boxes. An official drop box in LA County was set on fire. Denver officials have reported voter intimidations at drop boxes. Around the country, right-wing “poll watchers” have menaced people in line to vote early. In Baltimore, a hired security guard protecting a ballot box was shot. All this has taken place as Trump has suggested that the election may be rigged against him.
In Aug., two retired Army officers wrote an open letter to General Mark Milley calling on him as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to use the military to oust Trump should he lose the election and refuse to go. Others have suggested that without the military on his side, Trump would have no way of remaining in office. However, it is not the military we need to worry about. Ironically, Trump’s “trump card” is the judiciary. With the Supreme Court, a stacked judiciary and questions (that he created) surrounding the authenticity of mail-in votes, it is not unrealistic to think that what happened in 2000 could happen again. Recall, under the guise of legality, democracy was thrown out the window, the military did nothing, and the Democrat rolled over saying that the election had been, “resolved through the honored institutions of our democracy.” If those honored institutions rule that Trump should serve another term, the military will stand by quietly and Joe Biden will roll over. There is no precedent in history that would suggest anything else would happen. Hillary Clinton chose to respect those same institutions of our democracy despite winning three million more votes than Trump.
It is time to get serious about the future and understand that democracy is on the verge of collapse, that neither the Democrats nor the military are going to help us when it happens, and that Trump is a fascist.