Curtain Descending: Fascistization of America

When does a qualitative change occur in the course of a nation’s history, particularly when traces of the New appear steadily and throughout in the Old? Gradualism is deceptive. We conveniently think, e.g., of the Nazi Revolution, when in Germany, especially its Bismarckian side, exhibited an authoritarian bent that led to the cartelization of capitalism, from which internal hierarchy poisoned—from a democratic standpoint—social structure, ideology, political values, the people ground down into a uniform massive congealment of consciousness. The folk, its mystical antecedents in the distant past (Wagner’s creative energies did not arise in a vacuum), enveloped in fog, created a disposition to mythologize, under strong leadership, its mission in the world. Enter Hitler. If he didn’t exist, he would have had to be invented.

But he did, and the 20th century would never be the same. Weimar was part holding action, part churning out the social forces of the future (despite its astonishing gifts in literature, painting, architecture, etc.). Creativity is not a sure sign of democracy. Primordial structure and political economy roll again, perverting and taking hostage of whatever they touch, everything in their grasp. Germany could not escape its destiny, nor transcend its past.

Nor could America, a lineal pattern of development founded on capitalism (the relative absence of feudalism, but the presence of plantation slavery, made over however to ensure that itself was an adjunct of capitalism) which denied from the outset the equitable distribution of wealth and power, and thus foretold a future, not unlike that of Germany: homogenization of thought feeding into its own self-serving mythology of exceptionalism and national greatness. Both the US and Germany had vital labor movements—consensus, for America, quite meaningless until following World War II, political consciousness in Germany always facing a tough uphill battle.

Analogies abound where they are not expected, the appearance (only!) of freedom in America. its at best adulterated form in Germany. A convenient test of reality in this respect would be the prevalence of MILITARISM in the respective histories/political cultures, and here both pass with flying colors, America’s the more deceptive (though just as accentuated) because aligned with a “free world” (aka, entrepreneurial) mindset. Among the world’s most uncomplicated and intensive capitalistic formations—what I term its purist foundations—the US, one notes, provides the ideal social laboratory for testing the salience of capitalism, whether as alienation or the consolidation of industry and banking, or, a proclivity to military advancement.

One can perhaps only guess the reasons for the historical and societal alignment of capitalism and militarism, but if not divinely attributable it is possible to trace their close relationship to a demiurge of profit maximization, intracapitalist rivalry, and, since 1917, the fear of socialism. On these counts alone, even subtracting for cultural differences, America and Germany are not that far apart. But let’s leave Germany, and focus on America. (Japan, in its own way, would duplicate some of the features of the other two, particularly the genesis and mode of industrial organization.)
These preliminary observations are a way of saying, America today, under Trump, is not something new to its own internal history. We demonize Trump, when in reality he stands on the shoulders of American presidents, their parties, their policies, and their practices—in sum, government itself—going back in recognizable form to McKinley (Open Door), T. Roosevelt (battleship navy), and Wilson (liberal internationalism, i.e., antiradical global stabilization). To experience qualitative change, which I think Trump does bring on, because of its visibility and overtness, does not make light of the past, simply acknowledges the accretive details as making possible the turning of a corner long in the making. Trump is the face of capitalism approaching its undisguised capacity for inflicting harm. As a total social system we can expect more Trumps down the road, provided not interrupted by a nuclear holocaust.

The firing last night of the acting AG, the invitation to dissident State personnel to get lost, the obduracy on the immigration issue, the plutocratic underside of federal appointments, these are but straws in the wind. It can only get worse, and perhaps never better, as the Constitution becomes a freely interpreted document of political gangsterism and hatred for the “softness” of human rights. Capitalism has robbed Americans of compassion. The present crew will have it its own way, because the polity knows of no other way than showing deference to the sources of power, an elite structure combining capitalism and the state, the latter organized first and foremost to expanding the advantages of the former. Trump brings back the Social Darwinian features of the earlier capitalism (circa 1880s-90s) while projecting forward its totalitarian attributes looking to a dystopian future of further concentration, manipulation of the people, and war-provoking tendencies.

We’ve already seen these characteristics in more attenuated form (although Vietnam certified the cruelty and go-for-broke mental set energizing the momentum forward). Those looking back years from now may see in Trump the moderate or liberal fascist, so terrible what is yet, or maybe yet, to follow in his wake. All bets are now off. Let’s hear it for torture, for stripping the social safety net of significant protections, for a world of conflict (an ingrained doctrine of permanent war already on the table thanks to Obama, as a transitional figure), and for Fortress America solidified, thrown back on itself, when it becomes clear to the leadership in business and government that undisputed world dominance is no longer within reach. Plow on, Ship of State; take pride in the consistency of American capitalist development.

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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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