America: Banana Republic? Far Worse

Before the Inauguration, one was guarded about using the term “fascist” to describe America, as if slanderous and an exaggeration. No longer. It is not entirely Trump’s doing; Obama and his predecessors were creeping up to that point with each intervention, confrontation, weakening of civil liberties, drone attack, regime change—a whole catalogue of death, defiance, destruction. But it is Trump who pulls America over the top, with the willing agreement of millions of Americans, a self-conscious, articulate mobocracy contemptuous of all who disagree with, yes, a fascist agenda.

That agenda is simple: capitalism and militarism merged, indivisible, monolithic, holding America in a death grip. Squeezing, choking, bullying: experience gained abroad, slowly taking effect at home. Root out the dissident. Empty the social safety net, so that ordinary people begin to think complicity, for fear of suffering hardship, a fusion of surveillance and foreclosure or even penury and want of basics. The Tale of Two Cities? No, two countries, with police-state attributes riding roughshod over the people.

Through all of this, Trump poses as the quintessential Nazi-like demagogue, giving assurances to the people, celebrating their sovereignty, and meanwhile already—his policies and personality an accurate preview—turning the screws. Listen to his introduction in his speech, unashamed playing up to The Folk, to ingratiate himself with them, as, behind our backs, the Billionaires Club is busily writing and presenting their wish list: the scrapping of every decent thing a government, hostile in the first instance to the needs and aspirations of working people and the poor, has done.

Cut trillions from the Budget. Pour much of that back into armaments, the remainder into reduced taxes for America’s wealthiest. Strip away whatever is deemed superfluous for the realization of Fortress America, a Behemoth with the obsession of “greatness,” aka, unilateral global domination behind high protective walls. Only a complete militarization of political culture and Nation carries forward that logic: Hitler’s “Strength Through Joy,” a not-distant cousin. Win the people over, give them bread and circuses (chiefly rhetorical), crank up the machinery of patriotism, let the people think it is really their country, when in reality…. (Just look at the Cabinet appointments, and in the next few weeks and days, the roll back with a hatchet, not a scalpel, of social legislation.)

Here, the speech—dishonesty, flattery, a people’s presidency: “rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.” (The trickle-down theory, with rouged cheeks.) The “orderly and peaceful transfer of power,” heard ad nauseum on television, yet why not peaceful and orderly, given the continuity, my emphasis here on Obama, of bipartisan policy through administrations from at least Kennedy forward? More rightwing jive: “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” Again: “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.” A clever projection: demonize the source working hand-in-glove with plutocracy, the selfsame plutocracy Trump personifies, represents, and is determined to protect and enrich further. He speaks of “struggling families all across our land,” yet is about to gut the programs making their lives bearable. This is like the Marquis de Sade politically: humiliate (the knife driven deeper by pseudo-praise) the victims of America’s vast differentiations in the distribution of wealth, power, and social respect, and of course play up to those who have already evinced fascist sympathies (we are probably approaching the population half-way mark, including—shameful to say—a large number of working people).

The seeds of proto-fascism run deep, a contagion found in all classes, a shared responsibility in degradation and national shame. This is not the time to recite American history, present-day actions and attitudes tell the story, Trump being a useful summary of past and future. The USA “is your country…. [w]hat matters is…whether our government is controlled by the people.” He captures the energy and momentum of the mass-man phenomenon: “You [‘the forgotten men and women’] came by the tens of millions to become part of an historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction that a nation exists to serve its citizens.” True, indeed, provided it is understood that some citizens—e.g., Morgan, Chase; Goldman, Sachs; Halliburton; Boeing, etc. etc.—are more equal than others. For Trump to have come this far, and not be laughed/booed off the platform, speaks volumes about where the nation is at: in a moral sociopolitical void.

“A righteous people and a righteous public,” collective self-flattery again, leads to the theme of Solidarity, classic fascist rhetoric, when he proclaims, “This American carnage [poverty, drugs, poor education] stops right here and stops right now. We are one nation…. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.” In other words, Don’t rock the boat, don’t criticize, stand united against the Outsider, whether within or without American society. No longer shall we have “the very sad depletion of our military.” [The New York Times here interpolates the surprising, for it, comment]: “The Pentagon spends about $600 billion a year on the American military, more than is spent on the next six largest world militaries combined. Hardly a depleted force.”

There is more, worthy of Brecht’s Arturo Ui, Mel Brooks’s The Producers, or run-of-the-mill Hitlerian dialogue: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.” Those of my generation shudder at the phrase (even as a small child on the eve of World War II), its crystal-clear Nazi overtones and associations historically realized in practice, and now brought back to life. Then into an American Paean: We will be self-sufficient. We will rebuild America. “We will shine for everyone to follow.” The city on a hill has never had a greater champion, oozing with ethnocentrism and xenophobia, not to say, organized within an authoritarian framework. The best he can do, and we can turn now from the speech, is: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly [in both cases, not only massive surveillance, but also the Espionage Act to be used against whistleblowers], but always pursue solidarity.” Promises are meant to be fulfilled, or broken, but there is no getting around the last thought, “the pursuit of solidarity,” no fudging the fascist mindset.

My title mentions the banana republic (Webster’s, “a small dependent country; esp. one run despotically”), the last part square on the mark, but this is more serious: concentrated power to antisocial, antihuman ends, led by the unscrupulous and wealth- and power-hungry, a matrix of nihilism given a touch of glamor. Trump is for real. Militarism is for real, given special meaning and intensity by virtue of being inscribed within a fortress-like structure and mentality. Heaven help any who dare cross the United States of America.

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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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