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Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper

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The United States is now moving from Fortress America to a Garrison State. By every conceivable measure, the Trump administration is tearing out the vitals, like an enraged tiger out for blood (for no other reason than destruction of what serves and benefits the citizenry), of a social-welfare and environmentally supportive society. The extent of the destruction is so widespread (never mind the use of a scalpel, we are also talking big time meat cleaver) that it sets the historical clock back decades on government’s solemn obligation to guard the interests of the people. But, without underestimating the harm he is doing and has done, the problem is partly just that: previous governments throughout American history, the New Deal largely excepted, have not served the people’s interest, and have been in the hands of ruling elites with continuities down to the present moment.

I refer to fascism advisedly. Structurally, we find the interpenetration of Capitalism and the State, or if you wish, more familiarly, business and government, the purpose to integrate parallel structures of power on behalf of profit maximization for the corporate sector at home, market-expansion and aspiration for global financial-industrial-military pre-eminence, basically through unilateral actions, abroad. Beyond structure, however, fascism, is inscribed in the American pattern of historical development since at least the late 19th century. It has meant a monoculture of capitalist saturation which has perpetuated an hierarchical social order aimed at stabilizing a ruling group, however varied over time (depending on the different sectors of the economy enjoying prominence) yet constant as part of the societal formation. Democracy, if by that we mean a central element of equality, is a farce, not even a solemn farce.

I won’t attempt here a review of that history, which beginning with the Open Door Policy in the late 19th century ushered in a period of expansion having geopolitical and military significance, followed by Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism (with special nods to the House of Morgan and the Battleship Navy), then Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism (both internally achieving the rationalization of banking coupled with expansion and counterrevolution), to Obama and what I would term an interventionist ethos, symbolized, for me, by the use of armed drones for purposes of assassination. All in all, America has always, in spite of periods of isolationism, been addicted to imperialism: markets, on a pragmatic basis, but also, ideological concerns for their own sake, as in support of dictators, adamant opposition to revolution, the need, as in Vietnam, mercilessly to crush The Enemy through napalm, defoliants, and carpet bombing, and no missed opportunity for confrontation with Russia and China.

We are speaking here of the postwar world, not one of Trump’s creation, which suggests that continuities exist with his predecessors, and that their taking of such faltering steps toward democratization (if at all) paved the way for his rise—harsh-sounding as that may be. America was ripe for Trump, granted in the sanitized form he presented at the election, but neither, once the picture is clear, has there been sufficient resistance to the minor qualitative leap he has made from the past: a liberalization of fascism (in which the rule of law has generally held, while, nonetheless, the concentration of wealth has rapidly moved forward, parallel to an already vastly oversized military budget and continued business-banking monopolization) to the straight-out militarization of fascism—the genuine article in countless ways, from stripping down the social safety net, to the liberation of the forces of pollution, and with that bringing of America to its knees, rounding up all the budgetary savings and channeling the funds into the military as a supreme, unquestioned good. Trump, the Prussian general, has catapulted over Weimer to become a second Adolph Hitler.

If what I say grates on the ears, I only speak to what I believe is true, namely, that he is a global menace, mobilizing the fascist sentiment that is out there (as in his Louisville speech on March 20, and, in fact, his continued mobilization of, and trying to expand, his base through going on the road to agitate crowds by spewing hate, aggression, and a charisma of caudillismo). To know Trump, regrettably, is to know a significant portion of America, and whether yesterday’s polls show declining support for him, the numbers in his favor are alarming and the questions asked do not always reflect underlying attitudes, as in what purports to be anticommunism as a reflex action involving contempt for the poor and other perverted views.

Here I should like to look briefly at Coral Davenport’s New York Times article, “Trump Lays Plans to Reverse Obama’s Climate Change Legacy” (March 22), nominally narrow-based, the single topic, yet revealing much of the whole in microcosm. She writes that Trump “intends to follow through on his campaign vows to rip apart every element of what the president has called Mr. Obama’s ‘stupid’ policies to address climate change.” (Webster’s: my reference to usurpation is, in part,to exercise authority wrongfully, especially now when the mobilization of the electorate in the campaign was grounded in his lies and its false consciousness.) Trump’s proposed budget “would eliminate climate change research and prevention programs across the federal government and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent, more than any other agency.” He also ordered Pruitt (who himself denies carbon dioxide has any relation to global warming), EPA administrator, “to revise the agency’s stringent standards on planet-warming tailpipe pollution from vehicles”—EPA itself, then Trump meticulously reaching down to complete the devastation. Only small-minded, venomous actions, so characteristic of Nazism, helps explain the totalitarian emphasis, as though a cleansing operation.

Trump is doing everything thus far to withdraw from the Paris Accords to limit global warming, except the formal announcement, torpedoing them, first, by denying the need, and second, by pursuing a host of policies individually and collectively poisoning the atmosphere and heating the planet. But he doesn’t care: humankind has no other connection with science, Nature, the environment than bleeding dry the nation and world through unrestrained capitalism and the exhibition of power. Then comes the rewriting and ultimate destruction of the Clean Power Plan, an Obama rule “devised to shut down hundreds of heavily-polluting coal-fired power plants and freeze construction of new coal plants, while replacing them with vast wind and solar farms.” The latter, of course, is pure sissified outreach to please the weak among us, and contrary to Trump’s manly aura of belligerence and thirst for conquest, while the former, as in the Louisville rally, is a sadistic demiurge to despoil everything in sight while eulogizing, and hiding behind the image of, the miner as though the only one involved—not the mega-companies—and on public lands at that. Here Davenport notes, implying the depths of Trump’s despoliation perspective, its gratuitousness, “Economists are skeptical that a rollback of the rules would restore lost coal jobs because the demand for coal has been steadily declining for years.”

Never mind, full speed ahead, even if only for the sake of further pollution. Pruitt, as noted, does not see carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change, but that, perhaps as a test of loyalty to The Leader, is par for the course, while Mulvaney, director of OMB, in justifying Trump’s “proposed cuts to climate change research programs,” had this to say: “’As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore’”—neat and tidy (consistent with sharp cuts elsewhere, categorical, the edict handed down, fascistic in spirit and execution). One can see what I mean by sabotaging the Paris Accords. And AG Sessions, by the draft order on eliminating the Clean Power Plan, has requested that “a federal court halt consideration of a 28-state lawsuit against [Trump’s] regulation.” This is typical of Trump’s mounting a full-court press to devastate the opposition and have his own way (my previous reference to “lift[ing] a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands.”

Trump wants the elimination, getting down to the nitty-gritty, of the “budgeting metric known as the social cost of carbon,” which “places a dollar cost on the economic impact of planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution … costs [which] would be outweighed by the economic benefits of preventing billions of tons of planet-warming pollution.” His order, as well, would rescind Obama’s, “that all federal agencies take climate change into account when considering any form of environmental permitting.” To move from the above discussion, easily extended to cover other sectors of America’s economy and society (eliminating Meals on Wheels, a small detail, sticks out for me of the obvious social cruelty motivating policy), to the militarization of American fascism is puddle-jumping, not a major leap, for the same mindset prevails, an orderly dystopian nightmare founded on base instincts of power, wealth, and status (to which I would add, cruelty for its own sake, and the desire to denigrate and humiliate those who oppose or disagree).

Fascism, here, business-government interpenetration, sharpens and articulates the instinct and glorification of violence within and reinforced by a framework of lethal force applied in furtherance of mutual Capitalism-State objectives. This short-circuits democratic processes and thereby enhances the power of The Leader, in this case, Trump, who is at home in both worlds, Capitalism and the State. I grant the definition is sophomoric, but it says what I want to call attention to, the unwarranted seizure of power (even, at the time, accomplished through election, the power now turned to monstrous ends). Webster’s definition for militarism, “exaltation of military virtues and ideals,” also “a policy of aggressive military preparedness,” both of which fit the Trump administration exactly, carries over directly from a parochial world view which corresponds to the hierarchy, falsification of purpose, essential atavism found in the domestic sphere, as a unitary projection made applicable to both the home-front and abroad.

The dwarfing of all else to the military budget speaks volumes about the true purposes of American society as presently (and it seems for perhaps an eternity to come) organized. The integration of domestic and foreign policy that occurs in Trump’s warped mind involves the negative linkage between the two spheres: when he knifes domestic programs and agencies he does so for the express purpose of engineering a military build-up. The obverse (principal surface) of every domestic move is a step toward greater militarism—and a possible step toward war. Similarly, every militaristic influence in society redounds back on domestic attitudes favoring, hierarchy, privilege, superiority, exemption from constraints, and valuing obedience down the social structure to ensure acquiescence and promote false consciousness. In one respect, we can admire Trump’s frankness, for instead of taking the Democratic line of guns and butter, to indicate that both can be operable, he straight-out makes the proposition, guns vs. butter, where the nation cannot have both, and the latter necessarily must defer to the former in social value and importance. And as for obedience, it logically and practically goes along with hierarchy.

Finally, I’d like to examine NYT’s major study, “Is America’s Military Big Enough?,” coauthored by Rebecca Lai, Troy Griggs, Max Fisher, and Audrey Carlsen (March 22), which provides at the top an overview of “major elements of the U.S. military.” We find 3,476 tactical aircraft, 760 attack helicopters, 93 cruisers, destroyers, and frigates, 10 aircraft carriers, 2, 831 tanks, 450 ICBM launchers, 157 bombers, and I’m sure the list can be expanded. More than enough, with the modernization of the nuclear arsenal, to make the remainder of the world take notice. The utter insanity here is, unlike increases in the past (Trump as we are tired of hearing, but do little about, “has proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending,”) where specific allocations had a defined purpose, the reporters state, as though military increases are for the sake of intimidation at home and abroad, “Mr. Trump has not articulated a new mission that would require a military spending increase. This has left analysts wondering what goals he has in mind.”

Stop wondering, the goals are multipronged but center on using the threat of aggression to make America Strong Again. Trump knowingly plays with fire, as though conflict were a test of manhood (or confirmation of nihilism). US military spending totals $596B, exceeding that of the next seven countries combined. That buys a lot: 1.3 M active-duty troops, 865,000 in reserve; 200,000 active troops deployed in over 170 countries; an 11 percent increase in active duty army and marine corps personnel; “around 2,200 fighter jets,” with an additional “100 more fighter aircraft to the Air Force; as for fifth generation fighter aircraft, the US is alone in that department (the F-35 is in that classification, slated to receive $400B in expenditures); two new aircraft carriers (“more than half of the world’s 18 active aircraft carriers are in the United States Navy;” and on nuclear weapons, Trump told Mika Brzezinski, “let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” The salience of the buildup, as the reporters are aware, is that, “as with other spending plans, he [Trump] has not articulated a strategic goal.” Probably that is expected, because the purpose is the terrorization of the world to suit America’s ambitions.

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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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