The White Power Candidate?
An impressive amount of light is being shed on the current presidential candidates, and Donald Trump in particular, revealing the ugly face of fascism in the US. In late June, the most popular US neo-Nazi news website, The Daily Stormer, fully endorsed Trump. Editor of The Daily Stormer Andrew Anglin writes, “[Trump] is certainly going to be a positive influence on the Republican debates, as the modern Fox News Republican has basically accepted the idea that there is no going back from mass immigration, and Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people. He is also willing to call them out as criminal rapists, murderers and drug dealers… I urge all readers of this site to do whatever they can to make Donald Trump President.” A particularly high amount of attention has been placed on the fact that someone in the audience shouted “White power!” at Trump’s recent speech in Alabama, but what did Trump actually say during that speech?
To the tune of “Sweet Home Alabama,” Trump struts to the stage at the stadium in the majority-black city of Mobile—a Northern businessman in one of the major port cities in the Gulf of Mexico with a significant Civil War history. He seems to handle himself with all the bravado it takes for a white man from Queens, New York, who the Nation has likened to an oligarch, to ramble through what seemed like a largely ad-libbed speech for fifty minutes before an all-white crowd of an anticipated 40,000 Southerners.
The speech begins with Trump comparing himself to Billy Graham, a leader of the Moral Majority who took cues from the infamous “Jayhawk Nazi,” Gerald Winrod. By minute two of his speech, Trump declares that just last week, a 66 year-old woman was “raped, sodomized, tortured, and killed by an illegal immigrant. We have to do it. We have to do something. We have to do something.” The crowd erupts in enthusiastic applause. The US, according to Trump, is immediately beset on all sites by immigrants who pose a clear and present danger to the security of each and every white, God-fearing American citizen—“The people that built this country. Great people.”
In true populist fashion, Trump calls himself a “non-politician,” insisting that he served jury duty recently, and refused to put “politician” as his occupation. He is an outsider, the common man like us. “I know the game,” he tells us. He doesn’t rely on lobbyists, because he’s “built a great business.” Trump shifts his focus to a celebration of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who walks onto the platform for a cameo appearance with his very own “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. Those hats are “hotter than pistols,” speaketh the Trump (“They’re made in America,” he reassures us). Sessions has declared that the opinions of climate scientists offend him, so in Trump’s world, he’s one of the good guys. Trump, however, is an unconventional leader, not a politician. In his speech, he calls for expedited elections. “Can we do that?” And then in his best manbaby impression: “I don’t wanna wait!”
Returning to the Pre-Reconstruction South
Someone brandishes an “original” copy of The Art of the Deal, one of Trump’s books, and he goes gaga; “That’s when they used real paper, right?” The crowd accepts the triumph of the paper mill—a great irony given the forest fires currently raging through millions of charred acres of Pacific Northwest rainforest, choking the air of hundreds of thousands of people. Unlike Portland, Oregon, however, the only scent of scorched earth in Mobile, Alabama, is that strange whiff of pre-Civil War nostalgia that still musters a tear for Old Dixie.
After insisting that “We’re going to build a wall” and warning that “seven and a half percent of all births are from illegal immigrants,” Trump rapidly moves on to issues of revitalizing the South by rescinding the Fourteenth Amendment. “The Fourteenth Amendment, I was right on it, you can do something with it, and you can do something fast.” What is Trump’s target here? The Fourteenth Amendment is the civil rights amendment drafted after the Civil War out of a compromise between supporters of abolition democracy and Northern industrialists who disliked the idea of racial equality. According to the Fourteenth Amendment, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This amendment established the basis of citizenship and the right to vote for black people in the South. Before the amendment, a politician who supported Reconstruction by amendment named Alfred Ronald Conkling declared, “[the] emancipated multitude has no political status. Emancipation vitalizes only natural rights, not political rights. Enfranchisement alone carries with it political rights, and these emancipated millions are no more enfranchised now than when they were slaves. They never had political power. Their masters had a fraction of power as masters.” The Fourteenth Amendment sought to enfranchise black voters, and to be treated “like Magna Charta as the keystone of American legislation,” in the words of one of its framers. Still, the Fourteenth Amendment came as a compromise to afford blacks various rights without engineering a far more liberatory, systemic undertaking.
By opposing the Fourteenth Amendment, Trump represents the nefarious tradition of Northern Republicans who split with the Reconstruction-era movement to spread equal rights to all citizens of the US. These industrialists sided with Southern racists to undermine Reconstruction through extreme violence, sparking the menace of the Ku Klux Klan. Agreeing with Southern Democrats that those who believed in public education and abolition democracy were mere “carpetbaggers” and “scalliwags,” these Northern industrialists turned their backs on Southern black voters and the project of Reconstruction, which ended finally in 1876 when Rutherfurd B Hayes won the election by agreeing to withdraw US troops from the South and allow “states rights” governance. As historian Leonard Zeskind explains in Blood and Politics, the history of resistance against Reconstruction marks an important tradition for white supremacists, from the anti-civil rights movement to Humphrey Ireland (also known as Wilmot Robertson and Sam Dickson) to David Duke, who would have won the race for Governor of Louisiana but for the black vote. A former Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Klan, Duke supports Trump for president, saying “he’s certainly the best of the lot,” and he “understands the real sentiment of America.”
Trump does not even have to mention black voters in the South; he merely points to the stopgap measures of the Reconstruction period as the problem that keeps the US from returning to its former glory. This position is presented on Trump’s new baseball caps, which proudly state, “Make America Great Again.” This sort of American Renaissance would occur by expelling immigrants and returning to pre-Reconstruction South. It is only after establishing these points that Trump moves to the global trade question, which he simplifies largely to the field of US-East Asia geopolitics.
“I’m a Free Trader”
The Chinese have stolen America’s future, Trump bleats, and it’s the US’s fault for allowing them to do it. The political careerists in power must be thrown out, and replaced with Trump’s “killers,” “mean” guys, economic hit men who know how to broker big, merciless deals with the Chinese. Trump presents himself as a “free trader,” but also states that he will reverse the economic order by applying a 35 percent import tax on all imports from Mexico to keep Ford and Nabisco in the US. This position of tariffs within free trade systems seems to fall close to what Nuremberg prosecutor Franz Neumann, in referring to the Nazi Party, called “a perverted liberalism.”
Most evident in his economic platform is Trump’s willingness to take shots at companies who have run afoul of his propaganda enterprise in the past. Trump tells us that Sony “has lost its way. Prices are too high,” which may have less to do with Sony’s balance sheet, and more to do with the feud that he got into with Sony late last year when Trump insisted that the multinational corporation based in Japan has “no courage, no guts” after they withdrew the film, “The Interview,” due to threats from hackers. The row went as far as Trump calling for Amy Pascal to quit her position of co-chairman due to “stupidity issues” when news came out that she consulted with Al Sharpton.
As he expands on his ideas, Trump’s outlook on international relations seems increasingly informed by similar personal beefs. He claims to appreciate the Saudis for spending tens of millions of dollars on real estate with him. However, he claims that “they wouldn’t be there without our protection.” Similarly, we receive little in exchange for “28,000 troops we have at the border between North and South Korea,” except for that “they take our trade. We loose a fortune with them. We loose a fortune with China.”
Confronting the flight of support from his campaign after he made racist remarks, Trump declares that he is suing Univision for $500 million after the Mexico-based media company for dropping Miss USA, which Trump co-owns: “I want that money!” He regrets, he tells the audience, that Univision’s audience will miss the beautiful women of Miss Universe (“summer girls, but beautiful,” he tells the audience, stealing a line from the late-’90s boy band, LFO). Trump tells us that he is “not bragging” when he gloats that he has over $10 billion dollars with an income over $400 million. “I want to put that energy,” he explains, into the American public. His main points are to “make our country rich, and to make our country great again.” How can we do the latter without doing the former? It is at this point, which would appear to many to be one of the more innocuous moments, that an audience member begins to shout, “White Power!” A cry which Trump seems to hear, but does not acknowledge (according to some reports, the slogan was heard more than once).
Flogging the Middle Class
In pinball fashion, Trump returns to China, which he claims is taking our jobs. “It’s almost as though they want us to just die,” he tells us with a faltering timbre in his voice. They’re his friends—those Japanese bankers who pay Trump rent—they’re “really smart,” but “we have dummies” who are “incompetent.” At the devaluation of the Chinese Yuan, Trump tells us that he hears “a sucking sound”—that noise discovered by Ross Perot in Mexico while NAFTA was in the works in 1991.
Like Perot, Trump makes a number of homages to the middle class. “I didn’t like ties so much, because they were made in China,” he tells the crowd, eliciting jocular approval. In other interviews, Trump has declared his disdain for hedge fund managers gutting the middle class, and called Hillary Clinton a “running dog.” Since Trump is independently wealthy, while Clinton is worth a mere $32 million, his candidacy is untainted by the special interest lobbyists in Washington, DC. “We’re a debtor nation,” the crowd is told, because the US does not negotiate well on the international stage. To fix this, Trump would use the “smartest, toughest, meanest, in many cases the most horrible human beings on earth. I know them all. They’re killers. They’re negotiators… I would put the meanest, smartest—we have the best people in the world, but we don’t use them, we use political hacks, diplomats[.]” Trump discusses his friend, Carl, who he characterizes as making “blood coming out of [his enemies’] eyes from hatred.” This macabre image was minted by Trump earlier this month in reference to his own feud with FOX’s Megyn Kelly, during which he stated that “there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her—wherever,” because she was so angry.
With these men in his charge, Trump declares, “I will rebuild our military. It will be so powerful that we won’t even have to use it. Nobody is going to mess with us.” Chants of “USA!” break out, and Trump silences the chorus with a jeremiad about “our vets” for whom “the senators up in Washington… have done nothing.” Responding to a commentator and referring to his standing in the polls, he insists, “We are tired of the nice people. I won on the economy; I won on jobs; I won on leadership by massive numbers. I won on all these categories. I said, ‘Why do we need an election? We don’t need an election. These are such important categories.’”
It’s in the Genes
In the final ten minutes, Trump surpasses all prior excesses. Describing a friend of his who “comes from a good family,” Trump asks the audience, “do we believe in the gene thing? I mean, I do.” A cry of “Yes!” comes from the stadium. Recalling the old eugenics comparison of stockbreeding, Trump states, “They used to say that Secretariat produces the best horses.” As Trump then goes through a list of accomplishments, including best-selling books and the show The Apprentice, he sticks his chin out in a move that can only be compared with a Mussolini. Trump then informs us that Generals Patton and MacArthur “are spinning in their graves,” because “we can’t beat ISIS.” Presumably, if anybody could “fire” ISIS, it would be the star behind The Apprentice.
At the end of the speech, Trump attunes his audience to anxiety: “We’re running on fumes. We’re not going to have a country left. We need to have our borders. We need to make great deals.” Regarding deals, Trump returns to the issue of Israel for which he asserts his love, but seems to believe is being abandoned by the US. Like numerous reactionary politicians, Trump avoids open anti-Semitism, throwing his support behind Israel while periodically getting in trouble with veiled anti-Semitic jokes like his recent gaff against Jon Stewart. He seems horrified that Iran “are doing their own policing.” This is “so sad,” he states, and then switches up the pace with one simple word: “Obamacare,” eliciting prompt roars of disapproval from the crowd.
After declaring his intention to rescind Obamacare, Trump begins to stump about “women’s health issues” bring about a couple of interesting minutes of awkward discomfort from the audience. He promptly switches to the lack of spirit, jobs, anything, and declares, “I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created… The American dream is dead, and I am going to make it bigger, stronger, and more powerful than ever before… And you’re going to love it, and you’re going to love your president.” As Trump steps away from the podium to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It” having apparently reanimated a Frankensteinian monstrosity, he seems confident, and the crowd wildly applauds.
Analyzing the Speech
If we assess Trump’s political platform based on Cass Mudde’s rubric of the “populist radical right,” we can see both nativism and welfare chauvinism as the most important characteristics. If nativism is the emphasis on citizenship that traces familial lineage beyond simple birthright, and welfare chauvinism is the increase of the social wage for native citizens, then we’re inside Trump’s ballpark. While Trump is certainly a right-wing populist, there is more to his politics.
There can be no denying that Trump is nativist—in fact, he openly brags about mainstreaming the term “anchor baby,” forcing Jeb Bush to use it in order to keep up with xenophobia. However, Trump’s demonstration of a “free trade” platform with restrictive tariffs is anything but consistent, and he seems to paper over the awkward split with returns to the gimmick of “killer deals.” Tariffs would encourage companies to build factories in the US, he claims, putting more money and jobs into the working class, but would taxes go to public health care? Trump seems to indicate that increased revenue would go to the military, rather than the social wage. The military would then leverage its protection of Saudi Arabia and South Korea for financial support—in short, a protection racket. So the description of “welfare chauvinism,” or generating social programs for “native citizens” only, seems to be a stretch. Instead, Trump’s interesting mix of personalization of economic order and increased protectionism within a liberal, “free trade” framework seem to move more in kind with Mussolini’s framework.
“[Fascism] is not a matter of assembling any old government, more dead than alive,” Mussolini wrote. “It is a question of injecting into the liberal State— which has fulfilled tasks which were magnificent and which we will not forget—all the force of the new Italian generations[.]” This seems to keep with Trump’s insistence that he wants “to put that energy” of his own personal genius into the system that “is running on fumes.” Competitors like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are “low-energy people” and black youths have “no spirit,” but Trump is resilient and his cadre are high-impact killers.
When told that the two Boston men who urinated and beat a houseless Latino man with a metal pole were inspired by his words (“Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported”), Trump responded, “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” He later tweeted that “We need energy and passion, but we must treat each other with respect. I would never condone violence.”
Although he claims to disavow violence, Trump’s repeated calls for exceptions from the ordinary juridical order echo the famous fascist “state of exception.” He calls on the crowd to support his impulse for extra-parliamentary aims, such as holding the elections early or not even holding elections at all, because “We are tired of the nice people.” Regarding the Fourteenth Amendment, he insists that we can “do something fast.” These impulses, matched with his personalization of economic policy, mark an important kind of leadership principle focused on his own gimmick of “deal making,” which only “the smartest, toughest, meanest, in many cases the most horrible human beings on earth” can understand. Trump would replace the incompetent “political hacks, diplomats” currently in power with his own energetic, vigorous, and ruthless crew. This rhetoric is mirrored by the words of important early fascists like Giovanni Papini—“those who hold power are of three types: the old, the incapable, the charlatans.” Trump’s people are virile and impressive, like Trump, himself. They evoke “blood coming out of her eyes from hatred.” And most of all: they want to help “make America great again.”
Holy Palingenesis, Batman!
Although there are numerous characteristics of fascism, many of which are contradictory, a minimal definition is provided by Roger Griffin: palingenetic ultra-nationalist populism. In lay terms, that means a kind of ultra-nationalist politics that calls for a rebirth of a former glory of the State. If “make America great again” holds as its referents the following:
1) Xenophobic focus on high immigrant birth rates and roving migrants raping and sodomizing elderly women;
2) Anti-Asian economic stance calling forth the image of intelligent-but-thieving Asian nations;
3) Anti-Civil Rights position decrying the unconstitutional burden of the Fourteenth Amendment;
4) A strange focus on genetic, familial heritage;
5) Anti-plutocratic politics coming from an oligarch;
6) Militaristic protectionism masquerading as liberalism; and
7) A political rhetoric devoted to energy and coming “back from the dead”
then it lands quite clearly in the tradition of ultra-nationalism known as “Americanism.” Each of these reference played its own special role during the 1960s backlash against the Civil Rights and labor movements, which after the election of Richard Nixon moved from political participation through the Wallace campaign of 1968 into various critical fascist organizations like the National Alliance and Liberty Lobby.
Is Trump a paleo- or neo-conservative? Not really. Is he a leftist? Absolutely not. But in his syncretic platform, he takes planks from both sides, from economic protectionism and anti-plutocracy to anti-immigrant and anti-civil rights rhetoric. Is he nostalgic for a bygone era? Yes, he is expressly nostalgic for that era that passed away with the Fourteenth Amendment and Reconstruction. Trump does not so much have an ideological position as a position of personal force and energy. He seeks “passion” for a new regime to beat the stale one and fill the existing system with renewed energy by eliminating the specter of rapist migrants given carte blanche by civil rights, and of course, making great deals.
Hence, while noting the complexity of fascist movements throughout history, it would be accurate to characterize Trump’s candidacy as lying within the “Americanist” tradition of fascism. Americanism began with the “America First” anti-interventionist group whose spokesperson was Charles Lindbergh, and continued through the American National Socialist Party under the leadership of George Lincoln Rockwell. While the American Nazi Party wore armbands, carried swastikas, and looked like brownshirts, the Americanist movement moved into a more astute appraisal of US politics forwarded by William Pierce and Willis Carto after the 1968 Wallace Campaign. America and Americans First has since been the banner of multifarious fascist groupuscles in the US, including JT Ready’s National Socialist Movement in Arizona. Although he may be stumping for this tendency without being fully aware of it, Trump may just be the most quintessentially “White Power” candidate that the Republican Party has seen for some time.