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The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing

From the subtitle, it is hard to know which is which; perhaps it would be better to say, “Equal Voices of Fascism,” so as not to indicate a preference for this race to the ideological bottom. Clinton and Trump equally menace human freedom, one through war, confrontation, and as the benefactor of wealth, the other, militarism and wealth itself. Together they favor power vested in upper groups in a framework of Total Order. Perhaps their sole difference lies in the paradigm each offers of the long-term development of monopoly capitalism, a question of means, not the end-result of the financialization and militarization of the System itself: i.e., varieties in the form of fascism.

Stated differently, the outcome rests on the internal pacification of working people in America (as well as global unilateral hegemony, in aspiration if no-longer-possible fact), turning on whether or not repression is central to social control. The best that can be said for Clinton is that the concentration camp/gas chamber syndrome is structurally and historically avoidable because her confidence in advanced capitalism and its ruling parties—chiefly, banking, industry, business, the military—can do the work of co-optation and absorption of the working class, obviating the need for overt force. I would term this, liberal fascism or the fascistization of liberalism. Neither one is oxymoronic, given liberalism’s ideological sanctioning of wealth accumulation and penchant for war and expansion—the foregoing ingrained in what C.B. Macpherson called, “possessive individualism”—only that, as now, liberalism in America fuses Capitalism, the State, and Militarism.

Thus, Clinton, for the present, need not go the path familiar to fascism in its Nazification mode. Her sympathy for, dedication to, and confidence in, capitalistic upper groups suffices to keep repression normalized through garden-variety indoctrination of consumerism and heightened patriotism, appealing to working people and minorities as their friend, indeed, champion, and counselor, while Trump is portrayed as an unreliable, gauche, Neanderthal-like figure (not necessarily off-base) who is essentially winging-it into a nebulous future. Wrong. Trump is Clinton stripped of liberal sophistication, i.e., a more truthful version of Clinton because he does not hide his attachment to war, confrontation (but see below the Putin-corrective to his arsenal of policy), ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and personal contempt for what each views as softness and weakness whenever America does not maximize its muscle-power.

Clinton is unintelligible without Goldman Sachs, as symbol and actuality of her deepest convictions, a camp follower of wealth-power-status dating back at least to her Goldwater-girl days, traversing a course of war-hawk proclivities and demeanor that in prideful assertion has never let up. (The Clintons have been notoriously bold in their enjoyment of both their close association with, and the largesse dispensed by, Goldman to their personal and so-called philanthropic coffers.) Precisely the Democratic contribution to that perpetual-Cold-War atmosphere is what makes a Trump legitimate and respectable. There are no longer any boundaries to America’s chiliastic quest for permanent greatness and dominance, particularly when liberalism underwrites the worst nightmares—from a democratic standpoint—of conservatism and reaction. Trump gets away with what he does, politically, ideologically, financially, because he goes several baby-steps beyond Clinton in the same policy-and-personal direction.

Trump, like Clinton, is no angel. If one represents a temporary respite from the degree of harsh punitiveness of overt fascism, the other is capable, in his idea of deportation of undocumented immigrants, of tapping the wellsprings of utter hostility (and the consequent punishment) of whomever he fears, contemns, or, push comes to shove, merely disfavors. Law is a plaything to both candidates, each one exhibiting the potential for unleashing violence at home or abroad. Trump, however, less sophisticated than Clinton, cannot trust as fully the assimilative powers of American ideology and its habituation of the populace to unrestrained capitalism (even though he has been a chief beneficiary of those powers) which derive from the political-cultural means of inducing the pacification of all those below the upper-middle or lower-upper class. For him, America is a bastion of wealth to those who are privileged, otherwise a wasteland to those undeserving. Clinton, by her actions, despite her rhetoric, might draw the line of stratification only slightly lower. We are left, then, with one who may elect more forceful means of social control more quickly (treatment of immigrants setting the precedent), but for either one Wealth and Power are in the driver’s seat.

In preparation for the debate, the New York Times jumped the gun yesterday with an editorial endorsing Clinton, “Hillary Clinton for President,” (Sept. 25), unintentionally revealing, by its near-categorical acceptance of her record and position, its own (similar) moral bankruptcy. It is worth noting its themes of acceptation, which includes, recognizing a fellow spirit in Clinton, a reactivated Cold War (it never really ended!) promoting conflict and confrontation with Russia and China, American exclusive global hegemony, and the adoption of realism (i.e., unilateral self-interest in foreign policy, an obliging working class, in domestic) in conducting policy.

Here are some highlights from the editorial. The Times praises her at the outset because, when becoming senator from New York, and assigned to Senate Armed Services, her work “earned the respect of Republicans like Senator John McCain with her determination to master intricate military matters.” (A peacenik, she’s not.) Among “[h]er most lasting achievements” was “an expansion of military benefits to cover reservists and the National Guard,” while apparently she can do no wrong even when she does wrong: “Her vote in favor of the Iraq war is a black mark, but to her credit, she has explained her thinking rather than trying to rewrite that history.” The same free pass as Secretary of State (pulling chestnuts out of the fire): “She bears a share of the responsibility for the Obama administration’s foreign-policy failings in Libya [NYT does not explain what those failings are]. But her achievements are substantial.” Not mentioned, e.g., is Clinton’s call for a greater number of troops in the Afghan surge than the Pentagon requested.

On foreign policy, the Times is positively vacuous, or worse, misleading. TPP is seen only in terms of trade, not a geopolitical framework to contain and isolate China, while the loaded term “reset” jumps from the page with respect to Russia: “She helped promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an important trade counterweight to China and a key component of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia…. Mrs. Clinton’s attempt to reset relations with Russia, though far from successful, was a sensible effort to improve interactions with a rivalrous nuclear power.” And what might they be? Again, silence from the paper, as in the US using NATO to march up to the Russian border (similar to America’s own movements in the South China Sea and encouraging Japan’s nuclear development).

But perhaps my favorite sentence from the editorial, combining hegemony and presumed do-goodism, is this: “Mrs. Clinton has shown herself to be a realist who believes America cannot simply withdraw behind oceans and walls, but must engage confidently in the world to protect its interests and be true to its values, which include helping others escape poverty and oppression.” True, “She has evinced a lamentable penchant for secrecy and made a poor decision to rely on a private email server while at the State Department. That decision deserved scrutiny, and it’s had it.” (my italics) That’s as far as the Times goes in criticism—nowhere: “Now, considered alongside the real challenges that will occupy the next president, that email server…looks like a matter for the help desk.” The editorial’s closing words are inspiring: “Through war and recession, Americans born since 9/11 have had to grow up fast, and they deserve a grown-up president. A lifetime’s commitment to solving problems in the real world qualifies Hillary Clinton for the job, and the country should put her to work.” A sad performance on the part of a newspaper which prides itself on the motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” and suppresses from half to two thirds of the story, particularly her closeness to business, finance, and the military.

Today the Times in a companion editorial lowered the boom on Trump, “Why Donald Trump Should Not Be President,” (Sept. 26), unexceptionable in its criticism, except (a) it steers away from the more serious point about his proto-fascist leanings, and (b) also evades a comparative evaluation of Clinton, which on both domestic- and foreign-policy grounds equally matches up. Militarism and plutocracy are no strangers to both. The Times comes down extremely hard on Trump for what one takes to be the obvious (in the subtitle calling him “a man who dwells in bigotry, bluster and false promises”), like shooting a bevy of quail with a high-powered rifle in a small bathtub. His “views were matters of dangerous impulse and cynical pandering rather than thoughtful politics.” So what else is new?

Trump is “feisty,” and “a man far more consumed with himself than with the nation’s well-being.” Correctly, the paper questions his business dealings, tax dodging, “self-dealing,” lack of “experience in foreign policy,” use of “anti-immigrant, nativist and racist signals…to build his base,” and avoidance of reporters’ questions. (When was the last time Clinton held a news conference?) But what most angers the Times about Trump’s candidacy is his foreign policy, notably, his doubts about NATO and expression “of admiration for the Russian president”: “Voters should consider what sort of deals Mr. Putin might obtain if Mr. Trump, his admirer, wins the White House.” (Red-baiting has not gone out of style.) The editorial concludes, “Our presidents are role models for generations of our children. Is this the example we want for them?” I would pose the same question of Clinton, and my answer would be the same, a resounding “No.”

Later. The debate is over. Claims of victory are already in the air. Talking heads are unloading their wisdom, with some desperation searching for the penetrating insight, foci of attention, a hidden meaning—and, for me, a near-absolute blank. The debate proved to be a non-event, the avoidance of substance in favor of one-upmanship over vaguely drawn questions. Nothing was said that contradicted, or modified, what is set forth above: a common essential posture of reaction which failed, despite sweet talk directed to minorities, formulas of economic growth, and professions of national greatness and strength, to move the goal posts away from incipient fascism. Here a verbatim transcript would not help; neither Clinton nor Trump transcended the mold of patriotic stasis to strike out boldly in a new direction. Both candidates peddled their customary wares, one denouncing Russia, the other China; one praising the American spirit, the other bemoaning the flight of manufacturing; each one probing vulnerable areas in the other’s personal character; no-one of the two providing offsets to and criticisms of the fundamentals of US foreign policy.

Does it matter who “won” or “lost,” when it is the country that is on a collision course with history? The basic profile of both domestic and foreign policy remained unchanged, which means drastically skewed income distribution at home, intervention and regime change abroad. Smugness of one was met by arrogance of the other. Whether NATO or autarky, respectively, was favored, it doesn’t matter, because hegemony remained the Holy Grail. In that regard, the differences on public policy, if believed, were never brought out, and probably were not meant to be. I confess, on one hand, to be dispirited, and on the other, not to have expected more. Perhaps one needs to revise one’s definition of fascism, to accord more room to bread-and-circuses as the means of instilling a faith in “democracy” in the public, when in fact business tyranny rules the roost and militarism becomes the latest flavor of false consciousness. My Comments to the New York Times, the first, on the editorial, “Hillary Clinton for President,” (Sept. 25), and the second, the editorial, “Why Donald Trump Should Not Be President,” (Sept. 26), follow:

I “…a matter for the help desk.” The whole editorial is an apologia for a ruthless, careerist, not terribly bright individual with a strong penchant for grazing the truth. It could have been written by one of her advisers or her press secretary.

Because Trump is so bad does not warrant approval of Clinton, the latter currently the best the Democratic party can do, and hardly of the moral character and political wisdom of, say, Adlai Stevenson. It is indicative of the editorial’s undue partiality and social myopia that not a word is found on Clinton’s relations to Wall Street, defense contractors, pharmaceutical giants, nor, except in vague passing, her credentials as a war hawk supreme.

Perhaps the blind spot can be explained by The Times’s own preferences in policy: corporate and banking favoritism, intervention, regime change, paramilitary operations. The paper has aligned itself with a party hardly deserving commendation, whether on democracy or human rights. In contrast, speaking truth to power would require condemnation of both candidates, not in the service of a third party, but as upholding the principle of non-complicity with evil and mediocrity.

But no, the paper does not understand that “realism,” used to describe Clinton, can be an accommodation with vileness in the long term, when shortcuts are made. The paper reveals its true colors by its ideological-political shallowness, its want of authentic realism.

II “Is this the example we want for them?” No, clearly. Yet when one pairs this editorial with that on Clinton, one finds that dumping on Trump, however merited, is not matched by well-placed criticism of Clinton’ record and character. By the latter I mean unstoppable ambition, fierceness on military policy, regime change, and support of Wall Street. In fact, the two candidates are hardly distinguishable–both flawed, neither one to be trusted on matters of state.

Why give credence even to a “lesser-of-two-evils” argument, when evil is a bipartisan affliction? This does not mean, necessarily, go out and support a third party. It means, speak truth to power and condemn the proceedings as a denial of human rights and democratic government. An honest position would be to recognize that America is no longer a just polity, and instead, a class-state tipping toward fascism. Of the two candidates and their supporting parties, both favor wealth concentration, and neither accepts basic principles of international law.

The Times would serve the nation better by admitting the dangers ahead, from a renewed, intensified Cold War to sharpening divisions in domestic wealth and power. Detraction from Trump is ever so easy, a thoroughly reprehensible figure, but why go from the frying pan into the fire by accepting, or even accommodating to, one as opportunist as Clinton? Thinking back to FDR and the New Deal, one’s heart aches for what awaits America, from belligerence to mediocrity.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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