Texas Governor Greg Abbot’s Christmas Eve political stunt of sending busloads of desperate immigrants, including women and children, to Vice President Harris’ home in Washington is another sign that Trumpism exists without Trump. To many modern-day pundits, the wide-spread acceptance of Trumpism suggests that the seeds of fascism are already taking root in America as countless Republican politicians now openly espouse Trump’s authoritarian program of hyper-nationalism, lawlessness, racism, sexism, macho calls for violence and, of course, the use of force to maintain power. Understanding how the Trumpist brand of fascism has become an acceptable part of American politics is essential to reversing its spread.
If, as Marx observed, traditions of past generations weigh on the brains of the living, then the roots of American fascism are part of its historical DNA. Trumpism yearns for a return to the good old days of a white, male, Christian America, marked by the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the denigration of waves of immigrants, Jim Crow, the lynching of thousands of blacks, misogyny, antisemitism, and homophobia. Rather than view this history with shame, Donald Trump gave Americans permission to celebrate it. The question is: why do so many Americans accept his invitation?
The globalization of American capitalism and the successful war on organized labor treats working class people as disposable parts. Plant closings, outsourcing, and the loss of decent paying union jobs have created record levels of economic inequality. While the super-rich ride their private multi-billion-dollar rocket ships into outer space, forty percent of American adults don’t have $400 in the bank to pay for an emergency. Structural changes in the economy as witnessed by the rise of the service and gig economies place increasing pressures on American workers, many of whom survive by working multiple jobs without benefits or job security. The decline of unions leaves most workers institutionally naked with no major institution to represent their economic or political interests. Lacking the institutional backing of organized labor, it becomes a case of “every man for himself” as class consciousness evaporates, and isolated and aggrieved individuals try to understand their plight. That’s when contemporary snake oil salesmen in the form of cable news companies step up to fill the void with racist vitriol that feeds upon the aggrieves feeling of victimization. Energized by the lies, many of the aggrieved heed the call of their Great Leader by wrapping themselves in the second amendment to reclaim their manhood and power.
Egalitarian democracy in the United States must face up to what it now confronts: a strident, violent movement aimed at restoring the Jacksonian vintage of white man’s democracy. Rather than addressing the issues raised by our racist past, Trumpism prefers to rewrite that part of our history. Consider their spurious attacks on teaching American history by calling it critical race theory, a strawman created to stir up the Republican base, or the book bannings taking place in red states throughout the United States.
Acknowledging America’s racist past is essential for curbing the rise of fascism, but creating policies that address our country’s alarming level of economic inequality is just as essential. Aside from advocating tax cuts for the rich and powerful and for squelching gun safety laws, Trumpism has little interest in public policy. If good paying, secure jobs provide buffers against fascism, changes in tax laws that encourage plant closings and overseas investments are crucial, as are labor law reforms to facilitate organizing and strengthening unions. So long as Republicans and Democrats alike continue to feed at the corporate trough, these reforms are unlikely even when faced with the possibility of a full-blown fascist state replacing our constitutional government.
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