The word “creep” in the title is a double entendre. “Fascist creep” refers to the slow insidious crawl of fascism in our country. It is like water seeping into your basement: You don’t notice it unless you are looking for it, and if you’re not looking for it, the damage is done, sometimes permanently, when you finally see it.
But “creep” also refers to the loathsome, reptant principal promulgator of fascism in America today—the fascist creep Donald Trump. Are Trump and his Republican bootlickers really fascists? You be the judge. To ease that judgment I have underscored and placed in boldface below certain fascist characteristics.
One of the most startling statistics coming from Republicans these days is how many of them would support postponing the 2020 election if Trump asked, maybe not even nicely. It’s 52 percent of those who claim to be or lean Republican. That’s over half of the party. Half of the party would support a move to postpone our Constitutionally guaranteed right to an election. Worse, the number jumps to 56 percent of Republicans if Republican members of Congress join in with Trump’s ask. Why would Republicans want this? They would support the move, so surveys show, if it were in the name of overcoming voter fraud. Voter fraud—the non-existent issue that excuses Republicans like Kris Kobach and Brian Kemp to pursue voter suppression.
Well, folks, we do have a political problem, but it certainly isn’t voter fraud. Out of one billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 cases of voter impersonation, the major Republican complaint. So, if the problem isn’t voter fraud, then what is it?
The problem is that the Republican Party is one more and more constituted by white men. This, as we know, is a shrinking demographic. You can gerrymander all you want, but if the party is shrinking, then who’s left to be squeezed into district shapes that would baffle a geometrist? What’s to be done? If you’re losing voters, suppress the vote of those who support the other party. And do it in the name of voter fraud.
In short, Republicans are looking to control elections to maintain their power. Thus this Republican search for control takes form not only through voter suppression, but also through gerrymandering. This perversion of Congressional district-drawing isolates Democrats in demarcated, irregular districts and guarantees that states will send a majority to the House of Representatives, even from a Republican Party that receives a minority of the votes.
Fascist or authoritarian control has an appeal for any party that seeks to maintain its power as its political base shrinks. If you control the Senate and the White House, as Republicans currently do, then you can stack the courts with federal judges who support your conservative agenda, especially about potential voter fraud even when there is none. You can have, for example, a conservative Supreme Court rule against the need for parts of the Voting Rights Act and thereby enable Southern and conservative Western states to make voting by minorities much more difficult. Unless the White House and the Senate revert to Democratic control, this trend will continue.
Control of the Senate, regardless of the size of the Republican base, is problematic for Democrats. Since every state has only two senators, regardless of state population, then rural Western states that are overwhelmingly white can continue to send Republicans to the Senate regardless of any shrinking base. Consider that the population of six predominately rural states—Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah—is less than that of the city of Los Angeles. Yet those six states have a combined 12 Senators, while California, closing in on a population of 40 million, has two. In those six states Republican candidates will dominate senate elections.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have in Trump a political figure happy to keep his base stirred up by turning them against our democratic institutions, which are nothing but reflections of the “deep state,” which Trump Republicans abhor. Trump criticizes, lies about, and smears our Department of Justice, the FBI, the intelligence community, his political opponents, and the media, which he describes as “the enemy of the people.” In the face of strong (current indictments alone) and mounting evidence, he calls the Mueller investigation into Russian election meddling “a hoax.” Of course, Trump also refers to the incontrovertible evidence of human-made global warming “a hoax.” His lies and smears against our institutions are fascist tactics used to undermine our confidence in our democratic institutions and thereby paint himself as the fixer, the savior, the deal-maker.
Trump has enablers in his twisting of reality into a bizarro wonderland. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway claims that lies are really “alternative facts”; Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani states that “truth isn’t truth.” Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works, comments: “Regular and repeated obvious lying is part of the process by which fascist politics destroys the information space. A fascist leader can replace truth with power, ultimately lying without consequence.” (p. 57).
Republican enablers in Congress say nothing about the immoral program to separate children at the border from their parents or the practice of banning Muslims from entering the country or his claim that immigrants are “takers” and criminals. About his insults and invectives directed at, well, anyone, and his ongoing violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, Congressional Republicans remain silent.
Congressional Republicans are content to remain silent as long as they are paid off in the form of conservative judges and ongoing tax cuts. They aren’t turning a blind eye to Trump; they see fully what he is doing. They don’t care just as long as they get those judges and tax cuts. Before the fall vote on the $1.5 billion-dollar tax cut, Republican donors threatened, if Congressional Republicans voted against the cuts, to shut off the spigots of cash needed for election campaigns. This cozy relationship between the ultra-rich donors, corporations, and politicians is one that Republicans want to perpetuate, even in the face of losing our liberal democracy to authoritarian rule.
Opposition to Republican actions and rhetoric is supposed to come from the Democrats, who have not been especially vociferous in their defense of our democracy and democratic institutions. Oh, they might criticize Trump’s lies and smears or object to Republican underhanded tactics, but they are mostly pliant and passionless, as they continue to fail to address vigorously the Republicans’ unremitting flouting of rules, principles, and decorum and fail to acknowledge the president’s march toward more power and greater authoritarian control.
Of course, many Democrats also have their hands out to Wall Street and to corporations, making them duplicitous in furthering this Trumpian world built of lies, power, money, and conspiracy theories. Perhaps the new House, soon to be in Democratic hands, will put an end to the march toward authoritarianism that Republicans have been hesitant to criticize.
A perhaps unwitting participant in the erosion of our democracy and the rise of fascism in America is the role of the press. Today the 24-hour information cycle demands “breaking news” virtually every hour to keep viewers’ attention. Cable news is now an integral part of the revenue stream of cable networks. Dollars, in other words, now drive both the stories on offer and the perspectives on those stories. Slanted coverage plays to the viewership base just as politicians play to their bases. Trump received so much attention during the 2016 election because he was entertaining, provocative, and different. Lost in the chase for dollars is a search for the truth. Trump may be offensive, but he certainly drives ratings.
Additionally, as a bonus, Trump even has his own propaganda outlet—Fox News. The relationship between Trump and Fox News is symbiotic: They broadcast White House lies and spin as the truth, report the Republican Party agenda as if it’s “fair and balanced,” and use distorted stories and perspectives that influence Trump’s own tweets. Trump’s base, who often view nothing but Fox, comes to accept the Fox version as an accurate picture of reality, while all else is “fake news” perpetrated by other media or, as said, “the enemy of the people.”
The free press is not the only enemy. The distorted reality of Trump’s base believes in fantastic conspiracy theories against Trump, perpetuated by the likes of “Qanon.” One such theory is that a super-group of Hollywood liberals led by Hillary Clinton is organized in a criminal network to take down Trump. Another is that Hillary Clinton, perhaps as a moneymaking scheme to finance the coup against Trump, is running a pedophile sex-ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, DC.
Qanon feeds into conspiracy theories about the “deep state”—federal bureaucrats in such agencies as the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Justice who aim to overthrow Trump. There is a “deep state,” and it is operated by federal bureaucrats. But these men and women are highly trained and dedicated professionals whose commitment is to the Constitution, the rule of law, and the preservation of our republic. Strip German fascists of their Aryan prejudices and you have in the Nazi purge of the government the same kind of bias against bureaucrats as Trump has shown.
DO I EXAGGERATE THE DANGER?
Looking at these developments shows us how Trumpism can fit in with fascism. Yet it is not a perfect fit. There is, for example, within fascism an emphasis on imperialism. Since other nations are inferior to ours, there is no reason not to impose our will on those other nations. So far, we have not seen this from Trump and the Republicans, though Trump pretends against all evidence that he is securing “great deals” that benefit America and at the expense of other countries. For now, Trump seems content to blow up treaties and alliances and go it alone. His slogan now is more “America Alone” than “America First.”
Fascism is the totalitarian organization of society by or into a single-party dictatorship. The election shenanigans of Republicans show signs of turning America in that direction, as does the Republican obeisance to Trump show a willingness to condone if not champion Trump’s singular leadership.
Fascists emphasize the unity and purity of the nation, of the nationalistic community. The single political party is a mass party—that is one with strong and widespread popular support—that works in an uneasy collaboration with traditional elites, in this case Republican politicians, to bring about the goal of unity and purity.
The unity and purity of the nation are brought forth and reinforced by looking back to the nation’s past glories, all the better if these are to be found in versions of a fictional past, which can be manipulated for mass consumption. Restoring America’s greatness—“Make America Great Again”—must harken back to a time when America was different from today’s context. For Trump and his ilk that time is when America was male dominated, whiter, industrious, not overrun by lazy minorities, and decidedly less urban.
What the Republican Party aims to do, therefore, is restore the glory of this nation, the true nation, the “real America.” The nation consists of those who belong together. Others who look different, act differently, and value differently are to be subordinated, if not removed. They harm the nation by detracting from its prior historical greatness.
Subduing and driving out the “other” and propagating a vision of the nation’s true past and its glories are the project of propaganda. Propaganda refers to the delivery and reinforcement of information, messages, and policy positions to move an audience in a particular and usually emotional way. The term “propaganda” comes from the Latin for “propagate” and referred originally to the Catholic Church’s use of it to spread and reinforce “the faith”—in this case, the faith in a past built on and around a white majority controlling all aspects (totalitarian) of living—education, business, faith, politics, the military. More broadly, propaganda is used to reinforce any cause, position, outlook, or attitude, often by distorting facts or using facts and ideas selectively that, as said, reinforces and propagates that faith.
Propaganda emphasizes the formidable traits and strengths of the leader without whom the people, the masses, would be under threat. In the case of Trump, the threat is from immigrants and people of color; without Trump there can be no restoration of America’s greatness. When Trump proclaimed in his acceptance speech at the Republican Nominating Convention that he is “the only one who can save us, deliver us, fix the problems,” he is simply recapitulating the fascist “architectonic myth” of the great leader. Only he, no one else, can do this. Around such a myth springs to life a “cult of personality.” (See my earlier blog, “The Cult of Trump.”).
The architectonic myth needs no evidence to establish or bolster it. The myth and the cult rest on propaganda—that is, on emotional force, not reasoned arguments, and on repeated messages, images, and depictions of the leader as strong, decisive, successful, insightful, and dedicated to restoring the nation’s greatness—all reminiscent of Trumpian claims.
Because fascists have a low opinion of the capacities of the people, their propaganda has few ideas, no arguments, and little but talking points, which turn out to be slogans more than well-argued and documented positions. “Death panels,” “tax-and-spend liberals,” “repeal and replace (Obamacare),” and “caravans of invaders” replace debate, details, and arguments. Republicans have been notorious for adhering throughout their ranks to their central slogans and talking points.
This might seem as if propaganda favors irrationalism over reason, myths and stories over facts (or fictionalized mythic history treated as fact), and emotions over reason. All of that is true. It is no accident that Leni Riefenstahl’s groundbreaking documentary on the November 1934 Nazi Party conference was titled The Triumph of the Will. Fascists aren’t interested in persuasion. They are interested only in action and emotional reaction.
Fascists oppose intellectualism, education (As Rick Santorum said, those who want all to go to college are “snobs.”), and expertise. Any intellectual work that remains serves only one perspective, education is used to indoctrinate students into that perspective, and expertise provides cherry-picked evidence to reinforce the perspective.
What is the single perspective? We are now back where we started: the view that individual greatness can only arise within the context of the greatness of the nation and that that greatness can only be restored by the party and its authoritarian leader. Muscle, might, and strength are the key values to cultivate among the people. Education and the media exist to reinforce and animate the perspective; protests, criticism, and cultural innovation undercut the message and the perspective and should be opposed, if not terminated.
The goal is the establishment, or re-establishment, of the power hierarchy that fascists claim is natural. Nature has not made us all equal; persons differ, and groups of persons manifest those same differences. In Trump world, at the top of the hierarchy should be white men, since men are superior in strength and intellect to women, and whites, through their evident success throughout global history, are superior to minorities. Critiques of and opposition to the dominant hierarchy, attempts to flatten it, reflect the desire of inferior groups (races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, etc.) to seize power and status for themselves. Of course, to follow this fascist logic, one must hold aside the lack of evidence in support of such claims for superiority and ignore any justifications on behalf of principles of equality, tolerance, inclusion, and diversity.
Left out of my account, because of the blog’s length already and my exhaustion from thinking about this episode in our political history, are some obvious fascist traits in Trump and his regime:
- Building a wall on our southern border to keep out undesirables
- Denigration of NATO and the European nations
- Cozying up to dictators like Putin, Dutarte, Erdugon, Orban, Brazilian guy
- Appointing Matthew Whitaker as Acting AG on the basis of loyalty to Trump
- Undermining democratic elections with claims without evidence of “fraud”
- Describing peaceful political protests as “mob action”
- Repeated denigration by Trump of women as “pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs,” etc.
I rest my case.